Ruth Wilson and Domhnall Gleeson deliver fine performances in 'The Little Stranger'

In the Ayres family’s House of Dark Shadows, nothing greater than a 25-watt bulb illuminates any room. Ditto even in the local doctor’s office. There’s gloom aplenty and precious little natural light to penetrate this supernatural thriller.

“The Little Stranger” is the very British tale of a respectable young country doctor named Faraday (Domhnall Gleeson), who, in the summer of 1948 is summoned to attend to an ailing servant at Hundreds Hall, the old estate where his mother long ago worked as a maid. The once stately Hall has been home to the Ayres clan for two centuries but is nowadays in a state of decline. So are its inhabitants.

Mistress of this crumbling manse is Mrs. Ayres (Charlotte Rampling), but she has delegated the running of the place to her nervous daughter Caroline (Ruth Wilson). Together, they’ve been trying to deal with Caroline’s traumatized brother Roderick (Will Poulter), whose face was horribly disfigured in the war.

Upon his arrival, the good red-haired doctor finds mother, daughter, son and maid all out of sorts. It takes him a while to drag it out of them (and out of his childhood memories): The house is purportedly haunted by the ghost of Mrs. Ayres first-born daughter.

'The Little Stranger'



  • Starring: Ruth Wilson, Domhnall Gleeson, Charlotte Rampling.
  • Rating: R for some disturbing bloody images.

Crazed Roderick tries to warn the doc of something ominous in the works (and the woodwork): “I have a bad feeling about tonight,” he says. “There’s a thing in this house that hates me — always has.”

The thing’s not too fond of anybody else, either.

But the doctor, of course, is much too much a modern man of science to believe any such nonsense.

“You mustn’t let this business get inside you,” he intones, “everything will be explained.”

Famous last predictable words. Soon enough, the poltergeist at hand starts pulling the usual tricks with the usual toys and devices at hand: ringing all the bells in the servants’ quarters, making strange markings on the walls and windowsills, slamming the doors and locking people in and out.


It’s as though someone’s subconscious has become detached and is acting out on its own. But whose? Caroline’s? The dead sister’s? The maid’s?

“These delusions are contagious!” concludes Faraday. While he — as well as we — try to figure out if this is a mystery, a character study, a period piece, a love story, a Gothic horror story, a psycho-drama, or all of the above.

Irish director Lenny Abrahamson, maker of the gorgeous “Room” (2016), which won an Oscar for Brie Larson, is working here with a script by Lucinda Coxon (“The Danish Girl”), based on Sarah Winters’ novel. They dish out Faraday’s back story very slowly, with a modicum of jump scares in between his budding romance with Caroline.

The suspense is never fully justified. But there’s no quibbling with the performances. As straight-arrow Faraday (he never even gets a first name during the entire film) Mr. Gleason is quite fine, and Ms. Wilson is even better, with her superbly expressive face, her chain-smoking and her determinedly unkempt hair. Ms. Wilson’s excellent at subtlety. The regally superb Ms. Rampling is as regally icy as ever — cryptically innocent or guilty? Of what?

The “backwater” Warwickshire location photography is effectively spooky, especially at night.

But the ending doesn’t quite satisfy. It’s not so much about its loose ends as its loose middle. Nobody can depend on the kindness of this “Little Stranger.”

Post-Gazette film critic emeritus Barry Paris:

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