‘The Little Stranger’ Review: A Chilling If Frosty Ghost Story

Dr Faraday (Domhnall Gleeson) is called to a dilapidated manor to tend to a nervous maid. It appears that strange things are happening in the crumbling estate, disturbing the remnants of the family who live there. Faraday adored the house as a boy and finds himself drawn to the family, especially Caroline (Ruth Wilson). But the doctor has a past as mysterious as that of the house, and something dark threatens the entire family.

Lenny Abrahmamson’s follow up to Room, is a distinctly colder affair. We are given little access to our mysterious protagonist. Gleeson plays him earnestly but there’s always the sense that something is being held back. Caroline appears as the more obvious protagonist, and Ruth Wilson plays her marvelously. She’s an assured, practical woman who’s wears the heavy expression of someone who has suffered greatly. Will Poulter is also deeply affecting as the badly scared RAF Pilot, Roderick. He represents the squandered potential of that generation’s youth.

There’s a beautiful Gothic ghost story quality to the production design. The house is captured in cold fogs and crisp frost. The dilapidation within the house is exquisite. The poignancy of faded glory is palpable. There’s a subsequent feeling of angst that haunts proceedings. A sense that this story is already over before it began. The characters are just ghosts wandering the empty halls.

I enjoyed the pacing and tone of the film, though certain genre traits become more pronounced as the story progresses. There’s a shift from downbeat period peace to traditional ghost story. In Room Abrahmson deftly moved from prison drama to character study, but here the affect is to feel somewhat directionless for much of the run time. There’s no clear goal that the characters are following, thereby showing its literary inheritance.

Thematically there is a sense of glory lost and ambition at any cost being destructive, but not anything much deeper. I’m not sure what the morose pining illustrates. Revelations that the rich have troubles too or that Britain will lose something with its dying aristocracy have been better realised elsewhere. There’s a tragic sense of the past clinging to it’s survivors.

The Little Stranger is a sad but entertaining ghost story. It’s not quite as radical or insightful as one would hope from Lenny Abrahmson, but the characters and the atmosphere is something to be relished. A film for chilly October evenings.

Four Stars

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