The Little Stranger

I was really excited to see this. Director Lenny Abrahamson gave us the powerful Room a few years ago. And instead of a young Brie Larson, he’s now doing a gothic ghost story, with four big British talents.

When I reviewed the remake of Papillon I said that people won’t like a long prison break movie, because they’ve seen movies like The Shawshank Redemption that have a lot more happening. With this movie, it’s a horror film that’s more of a period piece, examining different social classes, and there’s no interest in jump scares or spooky images. Yet people will think of The Shining, and wish it were more like that. I certainly would’ve liked to see some creepy images of the young girl that died in this haunted mansion. It creates a scary atmosphere to see a child ghost just standing there observing. Without those things, many will find this boring. The friend I brought (who loves horror films) and I both liked the slow burn and were never bored.

This is an adaptation of Sarah Waters’ 2009 novel. And perhaps many will find the pacing works better on the page than on the screen.

It takes place in an English village in the mid-40s. Dr. Faraday (Domhnall Gleeson) is called to a mansion outside of town to look at a young maid (Liv Hill) who is claiming to be ill. She claims she’s seen mysterious things going on, and he politely tells owner Angela (Charlotte Rampling) that maybe the girl is scared and offers advice on how to deal with her. And as he admits that he’s been to that house as a kid, her sinister, cold stare makes us think she knows more than she’s letting on about.

Angela’s daughter Caroline is played by Ruth Wilson (Saving Mr. Banks, The Lone Ranger). She has a beauty that reminds me of her The Affair co-star Maura Tierney. It’s a girl next door look, and it’s nice that you see women like this on screen. Especially since she has the acting chops to match her looks.

Her brother Roddy is played by Will Poulter (Detroit, Revenant), and he isn’t chopped liver. Well, he looks like it. Half his body was burned in combat during World War II, and the doctor starts treating him. We never realize the doctor has eyes for Caroline. He plays the character so stoically it was frustrating. There are things that are revealed later in the movie that make it more understandable why he is the way he is.

At times you question the motivations of the characters, but by the end, it all makes sense as to why they did the things they did. We were just confused by what the ending meant, but when we discussed it, we figured it out and liked what they did with one of the characters that survived this whole mess.

The problem is going to be finding an audience for this movie. It’s not geared towards horror film fans. So as long as fans of the talented British actors don’t mind an interesting story with horror elements, they should seek it out.

It’s at the Angelika Film Center this weekend.

2 ½ stars out of 5.

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