Review: ‘The Little Stranger’ is a Cerebral, Non-Terrifying Horror

A middle-aged doctor in a rural town meets with a patient who is part of the Ayres family. Unbeknownst to the family, Doctor Faraday’s (Domhnall Gleeson) mother used to work at the manor when times were better. Young Roderick Ayres (Will Poulter) heir to the Ayres estate suffers from an injury to the leg and face that he obtained while fighting in WW2. Dr. Faraday takes it upon himself to execute an experimental electrode shock therapy allowing him to write up a research report on the findings. It turns out that Faraday, although interested in the research, shows interest in spending time with the young Ms. Caroline Ayres (Ruth Wilson) as well. During one of his visits, Caroline inquires whether Faraday can examine her brother’s mental state. The boy says that he is hearing things in the house…

The story begins to grow dark as the Ayres attempt to have guests to the house one night and a young girl, a guest of the Ayres, is mauled by the family dog. Forcing Dr. Faraday to put the dog down. Then Roderick burns down the family’s bookshelf in a drunken rage. Forcing the family to send him away to a psychiatric hospital. One by one, something dark and strange is pushing this family to the brink of destruction. The only question is, who is The Little Stranger?

The Little Stranger is a movie that dips its toes into the river of many different genres. It is a period piece (taking place in the 1950’s), a horror movie, and a mystery. At times it even has a bit of a romance story as well. This theatrical tactic in other movies can feel a bit too much to take on for many films, but where others have failed The Little Stranger succeeds. In The Little Stranger, each genre the movie touches becomes necessary to the plot. All of these different genres aren’t just in the film to give the movie flair or appeal to the audience. They all have purpose and meaning. Without each piece, the movie would not fit together.

For instance, the era allows Faraday’s premature pursuit of marriage to the aging beauty Caroline Ayres seem more palatable to the viewer then if it was to take place today. The 1950’s was a time in which women were viewed as strange or “off” if she was not married with children at the age of Caroline Ayres. Even though the film still portrays Faraday’s pursuit as very aggressive and unwanted, showing Caroline crying on the sofa at the thought of being betrothed to the stoic doctor, it doesn’t seem as farfetched or inappropriate in the time period.

One of the best parts of the picture is the cinematography. The shots in this movie are beautifully done, capturing the beauty of this rural town in England, building on the budding romance of Faraday and Ms. Caroline Ayres and even the more horrifying aspects of the film perfectly.

The acting is phenomenal as Gleeson carries the film (as perusal). The range that he portrays allows the viewer to be sucked into the story. It allows for the twists and turns to catch you off guard. The entire cast is brilliant with Ruth Wilson playing the logic, smart and beautiful Ms. Ayres well. The slow descent into madness as The Little Stranger torments her and then again into clarity where she takes action. I also want to shout out Liv Hill, a budding young actress with only 5 credits on IMDB. Her role was minor as the maid Betty but is clearly a rising star as a support character in this film. Although Betty’s role was minor, you felt connected to her in a unique way. She wasn’t a part of the family and serves as an audience avatar, experiencing this horror unfold in front of her with no way of stopping it. Poor Betty, stuck along for the ride.

Even so, the movie is far from perfect, and not for everyone. At times the film drags, and if you’re looking for terrifying “haunt your nightmares” scares or intense bloody kills, this movie is not for you. The Little Stranger is more of a cerebral thriller. It is a story about class envy, love and the loss of a bygone era of aristocrats, as well as the rise of a new middle class. It is an almost perfect analogy for where we are in the western world. This can best be portrayed in the way that the stairs in the movie are shot. Gleeson’s character Dr. Faraday is always looking up wishing to find his way to the top of the stairs. He envy’s the Ayres so much that his entire life becomes engulfed in this nightmare.

Overall, if you enjoy a good cerebral mystery, this movie is a must see in a time when there really isn’t much out there right now. It’s a little long, coming in at just under 2 hours, but I’d say that the movie overall is generally worth the time and money if you want to leave the theatre thinking.

Grade: B-  

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