The Little Stranger, directed by Lenny Abrahamson, was a film where I felt as if I was continually waiting for something to happen, but nothing ever did. Watching this film is like being in a wave machine of potentially compelling elements. It raises you up and begins to push you towards something that seems really interesting, only to go back down again and never amount to anything, and it repeats this cycle for the entirety of its run. This will be an unfortunate review to write as it will involve me being quite harsh about the quality (or lack thereof) of this film and its various elements. So let’s get to it and discover if there’s anything in The Little Stranger that makes it worth your time and money.
Set in England in 1948, we follow Dr. Faraday – played by Domhnall Gleeson – who gets called to the crumbling Ayres family manor for what he expects to be a routine check on a sickly maid. But it soon becomes clear that something else resides in the manor beyond just the Ayres family and what it is and what it wants will soon have dire consequences for all who stay in the manor.
In the beginning of The Little Stranger I thought I was watching a film where once again a screenwriter had struggled to take a dense novel and strip it down to its bare parts and try to make it work within the confines of a movie script. I thought this because in the beginning, The Little Stranger felt as if it was rushing through its establishing information; characters were hurriedly introduced, a plot was slapped together. It all had the film feeling rushed and without any meaningful connections being presented to the audience. I had very little context for who people were and I was given no reason to care for them or be interested in their stories.
To say the pacing in the first act felt clumsy and fast would be an understatement. However, my initial assumption as to the type of experience I was settling in for and what issues would inevitably plague the film were in fact not what ended up making my time with The Little Stranger so unenjoyable.
What was in fact the primary issue with The Little Stranger is the total lack of anything that happens. I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that it’s hard to find any compelling or intriguing element in this film. There really is nothing that happens that makes you sit up in your chair and be eager to invest your attention in it.
The Little Stranger would continually hint at possible compelling elements, only for it to quickly abandon them and instead revert back to setting up something that might be interesting. It’s a cyclical experience that the film never steps out from. There would be a hint at a developing element in the story or within a character’s motivation. It would have me intrigued and interested to see where it might go, only for it to amount to nothing; for the film to touch upon it for a moment and then move onto another developing element that again has you hopeful for something intriguing. I soon caught onto the repetitive direction of the film and it resulted in me no longer having the want to engage with it. I instead accepted the experience I was now going to have with The Little Stranger and simply waited for it to drag itself towards some sort of conclusion.
But sadly, the issues with the film didn’t stop at it’s totally uninteresting story. Adding to the sedating experience of the film is a lead performance by Domhnall Gleeson that fails to draw you in or have you intrigued by the motivations of the character. The character of Dr. Farady is that of a morose, emotionless apparition who drifts in and out of scenes, leaving no memorable mark on them or you.
He was never someone I found myself eager to follow and experience more of his story. I found him to be an infinitely unlikeable individual who further dragged the film down into a place where I wasn’t enthusiastic or interested in joining it. There are certainly hints as to some unseen sinister motivations to the character, but the film never does a good job of exploring them or even making it completely clear if that is even the case (but that feeds back into my point from a moment ago about the film setting something interesting up and then doing nothing with it).
Beyond the character of Dr. Faraday, there is a dearth of compelling characters (which is more the fault of the script and not the actors). The only character that caught my attention was Roderick Ayres – played by Will Poulter. The physical and psychological damage done to him by the war made him someone who I was interested to learn more about, and this was reinforced by the excellent performance from Will Poulter who once again steals the show (his terrifyingly unforgettable performance in Detroit now has me forever excited to see his work). I feel there was a far more compelling story to be told with Roderick and his dynamic with his sister, Caroline – played by Ruth Wilson – who would have benefited from some actual development. But alas such exploration never happens and Poulter’s great performance and his compelling character are sadly removed from the film before they can become something genuinely interesting.
Perhaps the only parts to The Little Stranger that I ever found any enjoyment from where the effective score and the unsettling sound design. In fact, I would say that the work done by the artists in this film is all round brilliant; from the sets, to the costumes, to everything about how the film looked. Purely from a technical standpoint, The Little Stranger succeeds in at least creating a goosebump inducing atmosphere where all of your senses are seen too.
But unfortunately, the work behind the scenes was never supported by a script that could then create a well-rounded experience that I was eager to be enveloped by. Getting through this film was a slog. From a narrative standpoint there simply wasn’t anything to entice me in, and so I found myself very much not enjoying this film and being very glad to be able to leave when the credits rolled.
And so, I think it’s pretty obvious that I will NOT be recommending, The Little Stranger. As someone who doesn’t enjoy bashing films and attacking them for their failings, I’m going to bring my review to an end, and finish by unfortunately having to say that this is a film you can easily miss and never worry about not seeing what the director of the incredible ‘Room’ went and followed his Oscar nominated film with.
What did you think of The Little Stranger and my review of it? Let me know any thoughts, opinions or feedback you may have by leaving a wee comment down below. It you’re feeling kind then please consider following both my blog and my Twitter – @GavinsRamblings. I’ll stop rambling now and end this review by offering you my sincere thanks for taking the time to read my review. Thank you and have a brilliant day!