The Little Stranger review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
The Little Stranger is that kinda middle-of-the-road thriller that tries to walk an aloof line between stirring period-piece drama and standard haunted house spookiness. If it only had the extra bit of oomph, that’s added dose of terror, or even just a better shot blitz of period horror, there may have been something here. As it stands, however, this picture requires an extra cup of coffee to even progress.
The story takes place in the 1940s of Warwickshire, a doctor is making a housecall to the aged and dusty Hundreds Hall estate. Doctor Faraday (Domhnall Gleason) is rightfully suspicious of such an place in such decay, having housed two centuries of the Ayres family. He has been to this place before and has much different memories of it before the place descended into disrepair. Roderick Ayres (Will Poulter), a wounded World War II veteran, now owns the place with his family. Faraday suspects something is up with the family when he is called upon to attend to a sick maid who is faking her illness in hopes of getting out of the house.
Something strange does seem to be lurking about in the house as strange noises and servant bells around the halls begin to ring with nobody on the other end. Is there something lurking in the darkness? And if there is, is it of this world or a spirit from beyond, haunting this house? Something is abound as the more time Faraday spends in this house, the more mysterious and murderous it appears.
To call the film a slow-burn would be an understatement. The mystery itself proceeds at a slug’s pace with scares that underwhelm once they happen. I suspect that the original novel this film was based upon perhaps described such frights as the house bells ringing being more dramatic and scary. But as it’s presented in the film, it just appears more like the early invention of ding-dong-ditch.
So much of the dialogue is as dry and dusty of the era, often relying on meandering and meaningless voiceover that enhances nothing. Domnhall can be a great actor when thrown into scenes of great rage and horror, but here he is about as subdued and passive as every character bound and cramped within a stuffy picture. The whole experience is just so dull and dragging that by the time something mildly scary occurs, either in theme or genuine spookiness, it’s far too little far too late.
If The Little Stranger were a patient, it would be recommended a strong dose of adrenaline to, if not pick up the pace, wake this picture up. It’s a drowsy sort of costume drama that seems so preoccupied with duplicating the era it forgets about making the horror it intended to be. The costumes and settings may fit the period, but it’s appeal is greatly outdated.