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The Little Stranger




Ghost stories are rarely about ghosts. From The Sixth Sense to The Devil’s Backbone to Ghost Stories, the genre is used to explore themes of grief, loss and memory. Lenny Abrahamson’s adaptation of Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger follows this pattern, being largely about class. Dr Faraday (Domhnall Gleeson) has moved up from his working-class background to the professional middle class through medicine. The local country estate, Hundreds House, held fetes in the inter-war years, and as a boy Faraday visited this home and briefly touched a life distant from his own. In 1947, Faraday is called to the house by the Ayres family, to investigate ailments among the family and their staff. Steadily, Faraday becomes a fixture, developing relationships with matriarch Mrs Ayres (Charlotte Rampling), battle-scarred war veteran Roderick (Will Poulter) and daughter of the family, the pragmatic Caroline (Ruth Wilson), to whom Faraday draws closest. Through this relationship, director Abrahamson charts class tensions, as the landed gentry stubbornly cling onto their ancestral home even as their finances and significance fade along with the building. The house is as much a character as the people, its crumbling exterior and dilapidated interior expressing the failing fortunes of the Ayres. These fortunes are tied to a sense of grief and regret that permeates the film but it is always contained within a very British attitude of constraint and reserve. There is a sense of critique over these attitudes, both in terms of their effect on the Ayres and Faraday’s clear but dubious desire to join them, while no one is actually willing to confront their issues. In such an oppressive environment, small wonder that concerns emerge over haunting and lost loved ones. There are also some effective jump scares, including a child, a dog, fire and slamming doors. At times, Faraday’s voiceover is intrusive and can seem excessive, but as the drama progresses it proves to be more than its initial appearance suggested. This is not the case with the film overall, which sets itself up as a period ghost story, and delivers on that promise. It is not much more than that, lacking the emotional rawness and truth of Room or the scares of The Others, but The Little Stranger is still a nicely constructed Gothic chiller.

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