The Little Stranger
Directed by Lenny Abrahamson
Written by Lucinda Coxon based on The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
Starring Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Will Poulter, Charlotte Rampling
The horror genre wears many faces, and if I weren’t writing a review on a film that takes its horror seriously, I’d be laughing at myself for that ludicrous opening statement. When I was a kid, I was afraid of horror films. I tried watching them, but could never get myself over the tension.
As an adult films like Lenny Abrahamson’s “The Little Stranger,” appeal to me. It’s a strange dichotomy, but I’ve learned to accept it.
Much like the film, a lot of my own fears were reflective, not reflexive.
During the summer of 1947, Dr. Faraday (Domhnall Gleeson) is summoned to an ailing young housemaid at the Hundreds Hall home, a once-stately manor now fallen into disrepair. As he completes his work, he is introduced to Caroline Ayres (Ruth Wilson) and Roddy Ayres (Will Poulter), the son and daughter of Angela Ayres (Charlotte Rampling). From that first meeting, Dr. Faraday takes on Roddy, who was injured during a war and suffers from PTSD.
The beauty of The Little Stranger is in Lucinda Coxon’s dialog. It is sharp and witty, in a dignified way that befits the Hundreds Hall home and the differing social climate in post-war England. Faraday, the son of a housemaid who once was on staff at the home during its heyday.
The strongest attribute of the film is in the casting. Gleeson is sedate at first as he gets his bearings. As he becomes more comfortable around the family and the house, his demeanor changes. There’s a twinge of guilt that hangs on his every word at the beginning turning into reverence, but never respect.
Ruth Wilson’s Caroline is aloof, a preening heir more concerned in taking care of her brother than finding a relationship. As she warms up to Faraday, the air of responsibility gives way to fear. Her body language says one thing, but her actions and words say something completely different. Caroline is as strong as Faraday, but for different reasons much like Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay’s pairing in Abrahmson’s “Room.”
I could sit in a room and watch Charlotte Rampling just staring out a window all day and not be bored, she is that much of a presence. She lends her grace and dignity here, which suits the role of the head of the home quite well. She is the type of actress who says more with her eyes, speaking only when necessary and when she does, her words are as sharp as a knife. There is authority in her presence.
Will Poulter continues to surprise me in that he started out in comedy and has moved into far more dramatic roles, something that I think suits the actor. As Roddy, he has the double duty of acting through an appliance while trying to be the man of the house. The way Abrahamson and Coxon treated his character, you tend to think one thing about his motives.
Lenny Abrahamson understands his characters and their function. As with “Room,” “The Little Stranger” is walled-in, meaning the characters are the story leaving very little room for the story to balance out the characters. Some may find that challenging as the narrative unfolds, but the characters are so interesting that I didn’t mind it.
3 out of 4