Tuesday, September 04, 2018

The Little Stranger

I'm sure I'm not the first person to say this, but the Mary Poppins Returns preview is a slight change in the music away from being the trailer for a horror movie. Maybe that's why AMC put it in front of The Little Stranger, aside from both being part of that very broad "movies set in mid-Twentieth-Century England" genre, I'm not sure what the two have in common.


The Little Stranger is a drab little movie, but it's got just enough going on under the surface that I found myself almost talking myself into liking it at some points today. At some point I came up with that goofy "love triangle between a man, a woman, and a house" line, and then I figured, wait, what if Suki is effectively the house now, what's that add to it… But there's really not much there, even with the last scene. I try to construct a narrative of Faraday isolating Caroline from anyone else who shows her affection - her brother, her dog, maybe her mother, since he's pointedly not with Caroline at the suicide - and it's certainly a case where this is metaphorically what he's doing, but there's just not enough clear intent.


The Little Stranger

* * (out of four)
Seen 3 September 2018 in AMC Boston Common #15 (first-run, DCP)

Somewhere in the middle of The Little Stranger, the filmmakers seem to decide or remember that it's going to be a ghost story and start having weird things happen. It hasn't been great at being anything else, but that still seems like the least interesting choice they could have made. It's a bland, generic haunting, and never seems to serve as the metaphor for a dying way of life that it should be, just a way to tidy up.

Things start with something seeming off, as Dr. Faraday (Domhnall Gleeson) is called to The Hundreds, a large, decaying manse in Warwickshire, to tend to maid Betty (Liv Hill), who is not actually ailing but figures a poor bill of health would be an excuse to leave the creepy place. It's not exactly a homecoming for Faraday - his mother left her job there before he was born and he only visited once, as a child - but he's always been drawn to the place. Now, only three member of the Ayres family remain: Roderick (Will Poulter), whose heroism during the war left the young man traumatized and disfigured; his sister Caroline (Ruth Wilson), returned home to care for him; and their mother (Charlotte Rampling), who still seems to favor her first, lost child. Faraday soon becomes close to the siblings, treating Roderick's leg and being matched with Caroline when numbers at an event need evening out.

This all takes place in the late 1940s, a time when the United Kingdom is remaking itself after World War II, and though it is mostly happening off-screen, there are pointed comments about the methods - Faraday's colleague mentions the new National Health Service while Roderick mentions that the new inheritance taxes have strangled his family, forcing him to sell part of the estate to a developer who will create a whole neighborhood of single family homes on the property. The irony here is that Caroline seems to find this liberating - she is mentioned as having flourished in her wartime auxiliary service, and immediately empathizes with people having their own modest homes - while Faraday reacts with shock and horror. This is an attack on the way of life he has known and his aspirations, even if they are not realistically within his reach. The film is, then, a sort of love triangle between a man, a woman, and a house, as well as a snapshot of that moment in time.

Full review at EFC.

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