A soft summer horror, restrained like its Brit background.
The Little Stranger
Director: Lenny Abrahamson (Room, Frank)
Screenplay: Lucinda Coxon (The Danish Girl), from the Sarah Waters novel
Cast: Ruth Wilson (Locke), Domhnall Gleeson (Brooklyn)
Runtime: 1 hr 51 min
by John DeSando
The Little Stranger is a little stranger than most horror films: It’s more psychological drama and less shock. It’s an understated nerve racker that eats away at your anticipation till you’re a part of the haunted house that captures most entering it. A pleasant summer thrill.
Post WWII 1948, Dr. Faraday (Domhnall Gleeson) takes a call at Hundreds Hall, where mom was a maid and where the Ayres family is on its way to extinction, slowly and horror-film ominously. Yet there are no jump scares, no ugly beings, just the sense that things are not right, with a strange sound or rabid dog to keep the fans on edge.
As in Poe’s Fall of the House of Usher, the Hundreds Hall’s decay is figurative for the decline of family as well, no better example being the scarred and crippled Roderick (remember Roderick Usher?) from war, who is on the brink of letting the estate go to sale while he feels a bad karma in the house.
At the same time, faraday is telling us in flashback about his strange attachment to the estate from an early childhood party on its lawn after WWI, where celebrating the end of the war to end all wars introduced his working class sensibility to high class and a little girl who doesn’t go away after she dies.
She seems to be the little stranger who still haunts Mrs. Ayres (Charlotte Rampling). At any rate, the film suggests an almost abnormal attachment by Faraday and a death struggling attachment by the rest of the family including his love interest, daughter Caroline (Ruth Wilson). From here the story takes some formulaic turns, no surprises.
Yet, The Little Stranger has a Brit restraint that lends itself some nice horror moments. Especially effective is director Lenny Abrahamson’s, and his writers,’ unwillingness to show too much or give answers even at the end. Classy scary film.
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com