The Little Stranger (2018) reviewed by Jonathan Berk

The Little Stranger (2018) is the newest film from director Lenny Abrahamson (Room [2015] and Frank [2014]). He teams up again with Domhnall Gleeson – who was also in Frank – and adds Ruth Wilson, Charlotte Rampling, Will Poulter, and, an up-and-coming star, Liv Hill (Hill was the lead in Jellyfish, which was one of my favorite films at Tribeca 2018). I went into this film knowing very little and having not watched the trailer, because I’ve been a big fan of the aforementioned films he’s created. It did not disappoint.

Little Stranger may not be what you expect, but it is another well-crafted film by Abrahamson

Dr. Faraday (Gleeson) takes a house call to the Ayers crumbling mansion to treat their young maid, Betty (Hill). He forms a bond with Caroline Ayres (Wilson) and starts to become a regular fixture at the estate. Faraday had always admired the manor since he was a little boy, as his mother once worked there. However, as incident after incident occurs, it starts to appear that something strange is afoot.

The production design of the film is definitely a quick stand out. Set in the mid-1900’s in a small town in England, the aesthetic helps establish the mood right away. Abrahamson often utilizes a very shallow depth of field, leaving all but Faraday’s face hazy and dreamlike, adding to the unease many of the characters feel. There is an inherent stuffiness about the film, which is embodied in Faraday’s character whose stoic appearance often makes his feelings difficult to read. That’s not a criticism, but rather an observation of the character and his behavior in the film.

The performances were solid all around. Poulter has the most to build on, as his character was a soldier who was badly injured and poorly patched. He has severe scarring on his face and his left leg is mangled, causing him to walk with a painful limp. Poulter has been as solid in the other films I’ve seen him in, but he most certainly has to work to be this character, and he absolutely nails it.

Ruth Wilson undoubtedly possesses a wealth of potential, and this role should propel her a bit. Her character is slightly timid and is clearly torn between honoring an obligation to her family while maintaining the desire to be her own person. The relationship that develops with Faraday is a central aspect of the film, and Wilson’s performance makes it all the more essential. She begs you to care for her with a wistful hopefulness that only peeks out with an occasional smile. It’s a terrific performance that adds much to the film.

Final thoughts…

The film does meander at times, as it is in no hurry to reveal the central mystery which has the members of the Ayres manor concerned. It is a mystery that will likely divide audiences from loving or hating the film by its conclusion. Personally, while I was able to follow the threads and wasn’t entirely surprised by the reveal, The Little Stranger worked and had me fully invested in the characters of the film. By the end, the movie earned the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.

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