THE LITTLE STRANGER (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW
Directed by: Lenny Abrahamson
Produced by: Gail Egan, Andrea Calderwood, Ed Guiney
Written by: Lucinda Coxon
Based on the novel: The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Will Poulter, Charlotte Rampling
Music by: Stephen Rennicks
Cinematography: Ole Bratt Birkeland
Lenny Abrahamson is one of my favourite directors. Every one of his films has featured memorable and very human characters in compelling situations. He is not a showy filmmaker with a bag of tricks like say Tarantino or Scorsese but rather the same emotional energy of the neo-realism and social realism genres. His authorial style and themes also evoke the work of: Vittorio DeSica, Alan Clarke, Karel Reisz, Mike Leigh and Ken Loach. He has a subtle documentary style as his work represents the human condition in all its glorious failures. Most of all the characters in all his films, whatever their situation, are tremendously empathetic and Abrahamson’s power as a storyteller is to make us feel the pain, despair and joy they feel. He’s been nominated for a Best Director Oscar for the incredible film Room (2015) and deserved to win it.
His latest film is a departure from the more steadfastly realistic dramas he has delivered to date. The Little Stranger is adapted from the critically acclaimed author Sarah Waters’ 2009 gothic novel. It’s a dense and subtle character drama with elements of the ghost story and crime story genres. However, the on the whole it’s a crime story without the police and a ghost story without a ghost, because all the dread, mystery and mischief happens very much between the lines of the screen and the viewer’s imagination. In many literary adaptations, what may work on the page doesn’t necessarily translate to the screen, but Abrahamson and screenwriter Lucinda Coxon have fashioned an intriguingly dark and chilling character drama which stays with you long after the credits have rolled.
Leading the cast are the ever impressive Domhnall Gleeson as Dr Faraday, and the brilliant Ruth Wilson as Caroline Ayres. Gleeson is our sombre narrator who traverses his past as a poor, working class boy to his present, which is that of a reliable and stoic doctor. He reminisces about the desirous lure of Hundreds Hall, an 18th Century Estate owned by the Ayres family, who are now struggling to keep it going. Getting closer to the Ayres family he begins to fall in love with Caroline, however, their difference in class and a series of tragic events conspire to keep them apart. While the story moves slowly the narrative builds both character and drama subtly; and what it lacks in exposition it pulses with quiet power.
Overall, this is probably a film not many people will see. It’s difficult to recommend as it falls between the gap of a proper genre film and art-house cinema. Moreover, I was surprised Abrahamson took on such a curious project, given he would probably have had his pick after the success of Room (2015). Nonetheless, he proves once again his directorial brilliance, utilizing Sarah Waters’ formidable text as the basis for a paranoiac examination of the collapse of an upper class household, amidst the cloaked device of a hypnotic “ghost” mystery.