Monday 13 July 2020

The Little Stranger - 2018 film review

The Little Stranger (film) - Wikipedia

The Little Stranger is a film version of a novel by Sarah Waters, a writer of great talent. I haven't read that particular book, but I find her evocation of historical periods compelling and the same can be said of Lenny Abrahamson's film, which was scripted by Lucinda Coxon. I felt that ultimately it fell short of the highest calibre, but I found it consistently engaging and interesting and it's regrettable that apparently it didn't do well at the box office.

I suspect the film's relative lack of commercial success is due to the fact that, although it's usually billed as a supernatural or Gothic movie, it's quite low-key, and certainly doesn't focus on melodrama. But it's so well done that I didn't think that mattered, at least under the closing minutes. Much of the credit must go to the actors, who are absolutely excellent.

Domhnall Gleeson is Faraday, a G.P. in rural Warwickshire who is drawn to Hundreds, a manor which fascinated him as a child. It's now quite run down, and is owned by the Ayres family. Roderick Ayres is a former pilot who was physically and mentally damaged during the war. He is cared for by his sister Caroline (Ruth Wilson) and mother (Charlotte Rampling) as well as by a young maid (Liv Hill). We learn that another sister, Suki, is dead, and before long we start to wonder if her spirit haunts Hundreds.

Faraday and Caroline are drawn to each other, but the creepy and oppressive atmosphere of Hundreds seems to cast an eerie spell over everyone. The terrors are under-stated, and although the storyline is very different, I was in some ways reminded of the mood of The Turn of the Screw. My reservation about the film was simply this. It's all very well for a film to be under-stated, but I felt that, artistically, there was a need for a pay-off that was more powerful than that delivered by Abrahamson and Coxon. A climactic scene is reported as a flashback, which struck me as odd - why would a writer choose to do that? And I'd have preferred to know rather more about Suki. So I did feel a bit of frustration at the end, but overall that didn't seriously impact on my enjoyment.

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