This Is a Movie Review: ‘The Little Stranger’ is Obscure Gothic Horror in an English Manor

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CREDIT: Nicola Dove/Focus Features

This review was originally posted on News Cult in August 2018.

Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Charlotte Rampling, Will Poulter, Liv Hill

Director: Lenny Abrahamson

Running Time: 111 Minutes

Rating: R for Properly Disturbing Behavior

Release Date: August 31, 2018 (Moderate)

Many of the crucial events in The Little Stranger are never fully seen. A dog attacks a girl behind a curtain. The bells used to call on the housemaid ring furiously even though nobody is ringing them. And the main character, Dr. Faraday (Domhnall Gleeson), is plagued by repressed memories and his own unconscious behavior. Or at least that’s what he suspects and what the editing leads us to believe. It all begins with Faraday arriving at Hundreds Hall, a large country manor that wrings plenty of gothic horror out of its perpetual state of dreary English autumn. He is there to treat Roddy Ayres (Will Poulter), a disfigured veteran with PTSD.

The house is a bit of a totem for Faraday, as his mother worked as a maid there when he was a young boy. He is a sort of Jay Gatsby figure, coming from modest means and existing so closely to, yet so far from, the rarefied air of respectable society. Unlike Gatsby, he does not crave glamor so much as acceptance. He has never really been rejected by the type of people he treats, but he still yearns to ensure his place among them. It looks like he has fully secured it via a romance with Roddy’s sister Caroline (Ruth Wilson). But tragedy is hellbent against a happy ending coming to fruition. And what is the agent of that tragedy? Like so much of this movie, it prefers to keep itself obscure.

The Little Stranger is based on the novel of the same name by Sarah Waters, who also wrote Fingersmith, which was adapted into the 2016 Korean film The Handmaiden. Both films deal with themes of class and traffic in plot twists involving major reversals uncovered by seeing an earlier scene from a different vantage point. The major thrill of The Handmaiden is when it fully reveals its machinations for a mindblowing conclusion. The Little Stranger is much more subdued, to a fault. It asks its audience to soak in its mystery without much hope for full answers. Its craft on its way to the anticlimax is plenty chilling, but it winds up in a corner that is too dark to draw any satisfying conclusion.

The Little Stranger is Recommended If You Like: Some Dreary British Mashup of The Great Gatsby and The Handmaiden

Grade: 3 out of 5 Repressed Memories

2015 Emmy Nominations Predictions and Wishlist

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For my detailed thoughts on my predictions and wishlists in the major Drama, Comedy, and Variety categories, check out these links:

Guest Actor, Comedy
John Hawkes, Inside Amy Schumer
Michael Rapaport, Louie
Chris Gethard, Parks and Recreation
Dwayne Johnson, Saturday Night Live

Guest Actress, Comedy
Susie Essman, Broad City

Guest Actor, Drama
Mel Rodriguez, Better Call Saul

Guest Actress, Drama
Allison Janney, Masters of Sex
Linda Lavin, The Good Wife

Directing, Comedy
Rob Schrab, “Modern Espionage,” Community

Directing, Drama
Adam Arkin, “The Promise,” Justified

Writing, Comedy
Dan Harmon and Chris McKenna, “Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television,” Community

Writng, Drama
Thomas Schnauz, “Pimento,” Better Call Saul

Animated Program
Bojack Horseman – “Downer Ending”
American Dad! – “Dreaming of a White Porsche Christmas”
The Simpsons – “Treehouse of Horror XXV”

Android – “Friends Furever”

Host – Reality/Reality Competition
RuPaul, “RuPaul’s Drag Race”

Interactive Program
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Main Title Design
Man Seeking Woman

Single-Camera Picture Editing, Comedy
Bojack Horseman – “Downer Ending”

Short-Format Live-Action Entertainment Program
Too Many Cooks
Billy On The Street With First Lady Michelle Obama, Big Bird And Elena!!!

Stunt Coordination for a Comedy Series or a Variety Program

Special Visual Effects in a Supporting Role
Man Seeking Woman – “Traib”