Lenny Abrahamson is special kind of filmmaker. He makes films that are completely unexpected and unusual yet have a unique quality that makes them somewhat endearing as a result. Frank and Room are perfect examples of that, and with The Little Stranger, Abrahamson attempts to create a mystery chiller with a real human element, although the results this time aren’t that all endearing but more baffling and altogether more puzzling. The story revolves around a doctor in 1948 who visits an old manor house where his mother used to work, only to become ensconced with the family living there now, and as he gets more acquainted, the more he discovers a dark secret that haunts the house.
This film offers great atmosphere thanks to its impressive production design and attention-to-detail, yet this isn’t your typical ghostly chiller. This goes for a more subtle type of storytelling with the narrative explanations told only through slight hints and character expressions, which helps make this film feel distinctive, even if it’s not all entirely successful. This isn’t so much of a horror film as it is more of a straight character drama with only some sprinkled inclusions of mystery and ghostly elements throughout almost infrequently. This can make for a cold viewing experience, and perhaps this is intentional on behalf of the director, but this film could have benefited from having just that bit more emotional investment as to what’s going on.
This isn’t helped by Domhnall Gleeson who, although doesn’t give a bad performance, gives off an air of disconnectedness. Whether or no this was by design or not is up to you to decide. Faring much better is Ruth Wilson who manages to give it her all, allowing for a more nuanced, emotionally-complex performance that reminds us just how great she is in other projects like Luther and The Affair.
In the end, The Little Stranger is more of an oddity, promising much but doesn’t deliver a lot. Abrahamson does craft some brilliant scenes and very thought-provoking imagery, but the experience, as a whole, feels more isolating than engaging. It lacks the emotional heart that films like Room and even Frank had, making this feel a little bit of a step down in some regard, but still has some merit for it to be something of a fascinating watch.
Dir: Lenny Abrahamson
Scr: Lucinda Coxon
Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Will Poulter, Charlotte Rampling
Prd: Gail Egan, Andrea Calderwood, Ed Guiney
DOP: Ole Bratt Birkeland
Music: Stephen Rennicks
Country: UK, Ireland, France
Run time: 111 mins
The Little Stranger is out on DVD and Digital from 14th Jan.