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The Little Stranger: My take on the movie starring Domhnall Gleeson #review #basedonabook

If you go to see The Little Stranger expecting a film as scary as The Haunting of Hill House—the 1963 classic horror film based on Shirley Jackson’s haunting tale—you will be sorely disappointed. 

BUT if you understand this is not a typical ghost story, if you are patient with the story’s unfolding, if you understand that it’s not the things that go bump in the night that are truly terrifying but the things that lurk in our own hearts and minds, The Little Stranger is a an absorbing, compelling  and mostly satisfying drama. 

Domhnall Gleeson—in what some are calling the best work of his career—stars as the handsome, serious Dr. Faraday, the hardworking son of a former maid who has toiled to rise above his ‘station’ to become a physician. The doctor is called out to a formerly impressive, now crumbling estate where his deceased mother once worked as a maid. While seeing to the young servant girl—the only remaining servant on staff in this large, imposing house—he meets the family: the matriarch Mrs. Ayres (Charlotte Rampling), son Roderick (Will Poulter) whose body and mind were badly wounded by the war, and Caroline Ayres (Ruth Wilson) the down-to-earth daughter of the house with whom the doctor strikes up a friendship.

There are two additional important characters; Susan, known as Suki, Mrs. Ayres first child who died years ago, and who we only see in flashback. And the house itself. The house and everything it represents looms large. It’s Dr. Faraday’s past relationship to these two characters that drives the story and his relationship to the Caroline and the crumbling mansion in the present. 

As a child, Faraday visited the house (Hundreds Hall) during a special spring fete, where he was overwhelmed by the grandeur of the place and the lives lived there, jealous of the little girl Susan for a life he could only dream of having. As the son of the serving class, even educated as a physician, he will never be one of the upper crust, will never be accepted, will always be seen as other.

That envy, the lust in his heart for everything the Ayres family had—and what he sees them allowing to fall away— is at the root of what ails the doctor. What keeps him attached to the house in a less than healthy way.

There are frightening things in The Little Stranger: mysterious fires, strange marks on walls, call bells ringing without cause and some horrible deaths but the movie needs a few more banging doors and bumps in the night to strictly qualify as horror. Putting horror film expectations aside, if you can deal with with the slow start The Little Stranger is a deeply rewarding and deeply creepy mystery. A gothic tale I found haunting me after the fact.

Directed by Lenny Abrahamson (Room, Frank) the film is based on the novel by Sarah Waters, the reading of which I highly recommend especially for its deeper look at Faraday’s character and the relationship between him and Caroline. Lucinda Cox (The Danish Girl) wrote the screenplay adaptation. I think it’s fair to say the movie owes much of its success to the somewhat dilapidated house as imagined by production designer Simon Elliot (The Child in Time, Tulip Fever, The Book Thief) I hope to share more info on that front in another post. 

Did you get out to see The Little Stranger yet?  I’d love to hear what you think.