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

CREDIT: Nicola Dove/Focus Features

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

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