Plain, Simple Tom reviews . . . “The Little Stranger” (2018)

I went to see this film just under a week ago but after watching it, I was convinced that I wouldn’t bother with a review – for reasons that will become clear in just a little bit – but now that some time has passed and since I’ve read a few reactions from some other bloggers, I’m now going to try and scribble down some thoughts on the film. Writing this at this relatively late stage is also unusual for me because normally after seeing a new release, I try my hardest to get the review done as soon as possible, lest I forget key thoughts and ideas that I had. But hey, whenever it feels right, right? No pressure!

So this may end up as more of a ramble than a review . . .

The Little Stranger is the latest release from Frank and Room director Lenny Abrahamson and stars Domhnall Gleeson as Doctor Faraday who gets called to a formerly prestigious eighteenth century mansion, one that he was fortunate enough to visit once as a small child, in order to tend to the maid. While there, he slowly becomes involved with the financially struggling family, romancing the lady of the house Caroline (Ruth Wilson) and helping out the war scarred Roderick (Will Poulter), who is convinced that there is a supernatural being in the house with a grudge against the family.

So why was I so convinced that I was just going to skip this review? Well, it’s because I found The Little Stranger to be far too dull, boring and uninteresting – a film that takes time in building a certain mood and atmosphere but the problem is that it builds and builds to . . . nothing. In the end, the film drained a certain amount of life out of me and I couldn’t really be bothered to say anything about it directly afterwards.

The main issue is that, except for perhaps two or three particular moments (and even that’s a stretch), nothing remotely interesting happens in this film at all; characters wander around, talk, attend functions, go to dances, romance each other, deal with some legal stuff and ponder over some unexplained supernatural occurences but by the end, it becomes clear that the film doesn’t have a properly interesting story and personally, I struggled to figure out just what the point of it all was (though I was later informed that it was supposed to examine the downturn of the upper classes after the war).

Because although the trailer may suggest that The Little Stranger is some kind of horror/thriller – a gothic ghost story set in an old house much like The Secret of Marrowbone – there’s actually very little of that to be found. Instead, we have a smattering of supernatural, ghostly occurrences that ultimately prove to be completely inconsequential and for the rest of the film, we simply observe long winded and very uninteresting scenes that try the patience and send one off to sleep. The film ends on a final revelation but it’s one that you’ll be prepared for by the halfway point and when the climactic twisteroonie does happen, it doesn’t make a bit of difference and may leave you uttering a very halfhearted “oh”. Like I did.

The Little Stranger has a cast full of very worthy performers and in this film, they give decent performances without managing to set the lukewarm material alight. Domhnall Gleeson does his usual bit of being slightly pompous and uptight, carrying the film as best as he can, Ruth Wilson is dignified and reliable even with her unremarkable character, the perpetually baby-faced Will Poulter gets one of his most mature roles yet (though he was much better in The Revenant and Detroit) and Charlotte Rampling is . . . also there. But between this and Red Sparrow, she’s not having a good year!

Aesthetically though, The Little Stranger is all up to code because it manages to look effectively moody and gloomy, the grim and uncomfortable atmosphere is solidly built, and the decrepit house where all the events take place is very well designed – all torn wallpaper, heavy curtains and dust.

Aesthetically, The Little Stranger looks the part but it ultimately fails due to its pointless, boring, nonsensical story and plodding pace.

★ ★

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