The Little Stranger
It has come to be a cliché to say that a building, such as a house, is a character within a film. However, in a haunted Gothic horror like The Little Stranger, the possibility of the house acting of its own accord is a big part of what makes the movie so great.
The house in question in The Little Stranger is a grand estate in Warwickshire, England named Hundreds Hall. Once, the mansion was the very picture of 18th Century aristocracy, and much like the rest of England it has suffered over the years from neglect during the wars. Doctor Faraday (Domhnall Gleeson) remembers its previous glory quite fondly from his childhood, as his mother worked at the house. From the long rows of servants’ bells and stretched corridors, you can easily see that the Hall was once not only a source of pride for the community, but also a central employer.
By 1947, however, those days of grandeur are gone. The death of decadence is not the only death seen in Hundreds Hall, and the heavy atmosphere within the walls reflect that. At the beginning of The Little Stranger, the occupants are the remaining three Ayers family members. As the sole male heir, Roderick (Will Poulter) is the legal owner of the house and grounds, though injuries from the war have left him physically compromised. Sister Caroline (Ruth Wilson) tends to most of the house, along with mother (Charlotte Rampling) doing what little she can. When Faraday steps in to aid Roderick as his private physician, things only get worse around Hundreds Hall.
What could be the cause of their collective bad luck? Is someone plotting against the Ayers family? Or is it a ghost from the mansion’s wretched past? Might it be the mansion itself? Those looking for concrete answers (both in the film and in the audience) will be sorely disappointed in what is an atmospheric and satisfyingly ambiguous tale of Gothic horror. More questions don’t necessarily mean more answers in The Little Stranger.
What is certain is the skill of director Lenny Abrahamson crafting this tale into an entrancing and frightful film. The Little Stranger whispers clues to the audience throughout, which only begs viewers to lean in closer in a fruitless attempt to get nearer to the truth. The performances, especially Wilson’s, are subtle and restrained to the point of concern for their well being. Costuming and the set decoration within Hundreds Hall also speak to the audience through visual notions into what is and what was.
The themes of loss and trust veined throughout the film feed into the feeling of hopelessness and haunting. Though we’re just barely feeling a chill in the air, The Little Stranger is the start of this year’s horror film season.