“…leaves you wondering not only what you just watched but why you even bothered.”
I’ve been a fan of Lenny Abrahamson’s since Frank, and Room was actually one of the first movies I ever reviewed, so it’s safe to say that I was excited for his most recent endeavour The Little Stranger. Unfortunately, most likely due in part to what I am about to discuss, The Little Stranger came and went without even a whisper; luckily I was able to catch it in theatres a few days before it would have been gone forever. To summarize The Little Stranger is difficult, but just know that if you have seen any of the marketing material you’ve been mislead. The film is a drama about a Victorian-era doctor who forms an unlikely relationship with a once-wealthy family who is now slowly dying off.
So when I say that the marketing material is misleading, I mean that although The Little Stranger may market itself as a Victorian horror film it is nothing of the sort. There are a few scenes (really one scene) that did a great job of continuing the illusion that the trailers started, but the only horrifying thing about The Little Stranger is just how boring it is. I spent the entire movie waiting for the horror elements to take hold, and even with the movie stringing me along like that for the better part of two hours it could barely keep my attention. I will admit that in theory The Little Stranger is an interesting film. Introducing a story that is in no way scary, letting you get fully involved with that is going on, and then implementing a few horror elements. Its brilliant; in theory. The Little Stranger didn’t do that. It made me think it was going to do that, but it turns out that the parts I thought are there to misdirect me were actually just the movie.
I will admit that The Little Stranger was pretty to look at. I am a sucker for period-piece films and The Little Stranger is pretty immersive in that regard. The sets are dreary and would have been the perfect spot for a horror movie had Lenny Abrahamson decided to actually go that way with the story, but speaking from a purely visual perspective The Little Stranger is a good movie. Unfortunately there are other things to take into account, like the performances.
The Little Stranger has some of the weirdest performances I think I’ve ever seen in a movie, and certainly the weirdest in a movie that otherwise is trying to be realistic. Every single person in The Little Stranger lacks subtlety. You never wonder what any character is thinking because it is constantly written on their face. Every character except for the main character, played by Domhnall Gleeson, whose motivations are a mystery even after the movie ends. But a lot of that comes from the story and all of the questions it raised without answering anything. The only way the movie makes even a bit of sense is if you take it in a completely metaphorical sense. But even that gets thrown out of the window when the ending tries to spell it out for you.
I terms of the story: I get it. I understand what it was trying to convey and it is actually pretty clever. The problem is that when you fill out the rest of the movie with over the top performances and terribly dull dialogue and then you wrap this proverbial present in the guise of it being a horror movie, your audience is not going to be pleased.
Overall The Little Stranger felt disingenuous. I thought I was getting a period-piece horror film but instead I got a poorly made, terribly dull drama that leaves you wondering not only what you just watched but why you even bothered.
I give The Little Stranger a D