The Little Stranger hits nationwide this weekend and if you don’t already have plans to see it, you should call up some friends and get your butts to the movies! I have to confess that I’m a total sucker for haunt stories. Throw some spooks in an old gothic mansion and I’m already down to clown. Mix that with some beautiful production design and cinematography, I’m in love. So it’s no surprise that I dug the ever-loving-hell out of The Little Stranger.
Like any good gothic ghost story, The Little Stranger is heavy on tension and atmosphere but light on scares. If you’re looking to bask in rich visuals and a truly disquieting tone, this is the movie for you. If you’re looking for gore and in-your-face frights, well, you won’t find much of it here. In other words, this flick is much more Vincent Price than Victor Crowley.
“There is a richness and beauty even to the simplest of [Abrahamson’s] films and The Little Stranger is certainly no exception.”
As a child, Dr. Faraday was the son of a housemaid at the historic Ayres Estate, only spending time on the estate grounds during holiday celebrations. So for him, the estate was the embodiment of his adolescent dreams. Decadent parties, beautiful grounds and robust mansions; From the outside, it seemed perfect.
As an adult, he is called in to see a very special patient and soon finds himself very much on the inside of the struggles and realities of the Ayres Estate. His initial curiosity and fascination soon dips into obsession and danger. The further he digs, the more he discovers the fate of the Ayres and his own are wholly intertwined. Before long he is face-to-face with experiences and epiphanies that shake his perception of the Ayres, science, and reality itself.
Director Lenny Abrahamson (Room, Frank) likes his settings limited, his stories tight and his characters very grounded. He pulls that off here as well, but manges to broaden his horizons by stretching past the confines of the house, out to a handful of nearby locations. The characters are grounded, but proper English folk from a bygone era. The setting is limited, but the events that take place there are often larger than life and full of color. I love seeing directors challenge themselves. It is often how they continue to produce interesting content because comfort and routine are the enemies of creativity.
Some of his signatures remain however, and thank GodSatan they do. Abrahamson has a fantastic visual style not unlike Wes Anderson, with each shot full of depth, texture and symmetry. There is a richness and beauty even to the simplest of his films and The Little Stranger is certainly no exception. This is the first time Abrahamson has worked with cinematographer Ole Bratt Birkeland (American Animals) and, honestly, it seemed like an odd choice. Birkeland has largely shot shorts, TV shows and documentaries. They must have had chemistry and clicked though because yet again, this Abrahamson flick is goddamn gorgeous.
“In every role, [Domhnall Gleason] always seems real. Flawed and authentic.”
The visual success of this film comes from Abrahamson’s vision, Birkeland’s great cinematography, the brilliantly gothic locations, but a huge chunk of the credit must go to the incomparable production designer Simon Elliott (The Book Thief, The Iron Lady). Elliott has a long history of great English period work and certainly that experience and eye benefited The Little Stranger endlessly. If you wanna check out some of Elliott’s other great period work check out the fantastic Burke and Hare or Bleak House.
All the great visuals and atmosphere in the world can’t make up for bad acting, so I’m happy to report the actors here straight kill it as well! I swear I’m falling in love with Domhnall Gleason. Making big splashes with Harry Potterand Star Warsroles, moving into indie roles and now a great gothic horror. I mean, it’s just not fair. In every role, he always seems real. Flawed and authentic.
In The Little Stranger he is a man who is certainly flawed, but whose good intentions and curiosity drive him. He feels truly like a doctor. Many of us who know doctors personally know how deep they can wade into the waters of obsession and hubris. Gleason pulls this struggle and dichotomy off effortlessly. He is an incredible character actor and I can’t wait to see what the future has in store for him.
The rest of the cast fit into the skin of their characters like a changeling. Will Poulter is on fire right now (pun intended) and seems to do no wrong lately. Here he is great as the tortured hidden son of the family. Ruth Wilson’s performance hit me in the heart like cupid. Loved her to death. She was so natural as Caroline that about halfway through the movie I suddenly realized who she was (Holy shit, wait, is that Alice from Luther?!).
“If you’re in the mood for some old school, absolutely gorgeous gothic goodness, I highly recommend you make a date with The Little Stranger.”
Then, of course, there’s Charlotte Rampling. She is utterly divine and has been since she first stepped onto the screen in 1965’s Rotten to the Core. Here, she kills it as the matriarch of the Ayres family. She is billed only as Mrs. Ayres and that should about sum up her character. Still, instead of yet another cold English matriarch, she adds the depth and fullness she’s been gifting characters with for decades.
Long story short, if you’re looking for scares and slashers, this is a movie you may wanna skip. If you’re in the mood for some old school, absolutely gorgeous gothic goodness, I highly recommend you make a date with The Little Stranger. It is well told, well shot and well acted. Vincent Price would’a been proud.
Did you see The Little Stranger this holiday weekend? How does it stack up against your favourite Gothic Horrors?