Director Lenny Abrahamson follows his Oscar-nominated Room by opening things up to a mansion with this period Gothic mystery. Said mansion is the dilapidated Hundreds Hall in post-War rural Warwickshire, and the house itself becomes a key character in the vein of similar eerie entries from The Haunting to The Woman In Black via The Others.
However, it’s a good while before anything starts going bump in the day – for this is a rare, well-lit chiller. Audiences must patiently follow uptight village doctor Faraday (a staunchly stiff-upper-lipped Gleeson) and his dealings with the Ayres family; at first treating wounded RAF veteran Roderick (Poulter, great as ever), before falling for Caroline (Wilson). It is this slow-burn, genuine romance that dictates the first hour and Abrahamson is not afraid to take his time.
The pacing may be too sedate for some, to the point where it seems you’re watching a straightforward period drama, but the journey is elegant and compelling enough in itself. Gleeson anchors almost every scene with a maturing gravitas, while Ruth Wilson is excellent as the uncertain yet defiant Caroline.
All the while, the possible reasons for the Ayres home’s apparent haunting are alluded to – a long-dead older sister, Roderick’s state of mind due to ‘war shock’ – but there are no cheap scares. While a mood of dread pervades, it is only in the final act that events are cranked up a notch. There are clues throughout which do point towards the ultimate reveal, but piecing them together before that brings satisfaction rather than disappointment.
The austere, measured approach may not be for everyone, but The Little Stranger is atmospheric, well-acted and rewards your patience with an intelligent, unusual ending. Successfully twisting what you thought you knew, it’s liable to benefit from a second viewing with this newfound perspective.
CAST: Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Will Poulter, Charlotte Rampling
DIRECTOR: Lenny Abrahamson
WRITERS: Lucinda Coxon (screenplay), Sarah Waters (novel)
SYNOPSIS: During the long hot summer of 1948, country doctor Faraday is called to a patient at Hundreds Hall, where his mother once worked. The Hall has been home to the Ayres family for more than two centuries but is now in decline and its inhabitants – mother, son and daughter – are haunted by something more ominous than a dying way of life.