Lenny Abrahamson and ‘The Little Stranger’
Lenny Abrahamson, director of Room (Academy nominee for Best Picture), has returned with a new stylistic period horror drama, The Little Stranger.
Based on Sarah Waters’ novel, The Little Stranger is set after World War II and unfolds with Dr. Faraday (Domhnall Gleeson) arriving at the Hundreds Hall—a gothic estate owned by the Ayres family—to tend to the troubled and supposedly sickly maid. However, Faraday becomes captivated by the Hundreds Hall and gravitates to the Ayres family, especially Caroline Ayres (Ruth Wilson). Faraday continues to visit the Ayres family on his own leisurely terms, and he spends his time there either courting Caroline or helping Roderick (Will Poulter) with his injuries that he sustained from the war. With his continual lingering at the Hundreds Hall, Faraday becomes a witness to the strange hauntings with the mansion and the Ayres family.
Stephen King, the esteemed horror novelist, had even selected Waters’ novel as one of the best books of 2009, and told Entertainment Weekly, “Several sleepless nights are guaranteed.” Abrahamson, unfortunately, is not able to encapsulate this to its fullest with his adaptation. Critics have criticized the movie for being “snoozy” and “more stolid than scary” due to the pacing of this ghostly tale. Also, while The Little Stranger tantalizing and terrifying pace in the novel worked, it doesn’t seem to have translated onto the screen. Yet, that is not to say that The Little Stranger did not evoke a chilling tale, but instead it was a horror story that burned too slowly opposed to the fast-paced horror films we are used to today.
Despite the criticism, The Little Stranger is filled with wonderful set pieces and visuals that are aided by the performances of Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, and Will Poulter (Roderick Ayres). This chilling tale may have a slower pace than what we are used to with current horror movies (IT, Conjuring, Insidious, etc.), however, it is an enthralling suspense nonetheless. Abrahamson’s adaptation does not leave you to have “sleepless nights,” but rather it simply allows you to digest the visual puzzles of this gothic tale. Rolling Stone magazine called it a “hypnotic and haunting tale,” and that the movie steers away from conventional horror tropes.
The Little Stranger might not pick up as much attention as Room did—partly because of the lack of marketing from the studio—but Abrahamson himself is honing in on his style as a director. Abrahamson’s adaptation of The Little Stranger is certainly subtler than Room, but his versatile direction between genres and his suspenseful drama are still present. With his satirical drama, Frank (also starring Domhnall Gleeson), to his thrilling tale with Oscar nominee Room, Abrahamson further showcases his talents as a director with The Little Stranger.
If you’re looking for jump scares from left to right and copious amounts of gore, then The Little Stranger is not the movie for you—maybe try watching The Nun…maybe. Nevertheless, if you’re willing to be lulled into the gothic vision of Sarah Waters and the claustrophobic tensions of Lenny Abrahamson, then watch The Little Stranger.