Review: 'The Little Stranger' a horror stumble

Domhnall Gleeson stars in this listless 1940s-set horror film

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic
Domhnall Gleeson in "The Little Stranger."

An exercise in stiffness and rigidity, "The Little Stranger" is a handsomely executed, but crushingly dull period horror story. 

The story unfolds in post-WWII England. Domhnall Gleeson stars as Dr. Faraday, who is summoned to Hundreds Hall, the crumbling mansion that was once a symbol of excellence in the English countryside. 

Faraday visited the mansion as a child when his mother worked there as a housemaid, and his own experiences at the Hundreds -- he broke off an ornate piece of enamel that framed one of its artworks while messing around, the way children are wont to do -- come rushing back to haunt him.  

The home is now the living quarters of Angela Ayres (Charlotte Rampling) and her two children, Caroline (Ruth Wilson) and Roderick (Will Poulter). Roderick is disfigured from his experiences in the war and suffers from PTSD, and Faraday is called in to help treat him. 

It is soon clear that there are bigger issues on the table, which touch on the class system but ultimately deal with horror elements rendered chaste because director Lenny Abrahamson ("Room") refuses to face them head on. 

"The Little Stranger" is a horror movie by default; it's not truly one until it decides it's one about two-thirds of the way through its running time. Up until then it's a wandering drama and a listless thriller trying to find its way. 

Adapted from the 2009 novel by Sarah Waters, "The Little Stranger" is puzzling, a film made for no one. It won't please genre fans and is too timid to attract serious drama fans. And that's before the revelations that unfold in its final moments, which take a film from bland to absurd. Some strangers aren't worth getting to know, and this is one of them.


'The Little Stranger'


Rated R for some disturbing bloody images

Running time: 111 minutes