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A Magazine for Sheffield

The Little Stranger: Equal Parts Ghost Story & Horror Story

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Based on the 2009 novel by Sarah Waters, The Little Stranger is a gothic drama, equal parts ghost and horror story. It also works well both as social commentary and exploration of relationship dynamics. Some time after seeing this film, I felt haunted by it - aptly, because time is a major character here.

The narrator, Faraday (Domhnall Gleeson), a working-class doctor in a country practice in 1948, treats the maid at The Hundreds, a house he visited as a child. The sense of awesome curiosity of his first visit in 1918 plays out through his character as an adult, driven by what he wants but feels he cannot, or just might, have. The notion of striving against entitlement manifests in his pursuit of Caroline Ayers (Ruth Wilson), opposed implicitly by the commanding presence of Mrs Ayers (Charlotte Rampling).

Mrs Ayers is lost to an unspoken grief, and her children, Caroline (Wilson) and Roderick (Will Poulter), live in the shadow of this loss. Roderick, suffering physical and mental difficulties caused by PTSD, struggles with his own identity.

The family's loss mirrors the loss of the narrator's childhood, where there was no need to question identity. Subtle camera work prompts consideration of his reliability as a witness to events. The titular Little Stranger has poignant ambiguity.

The ghosts here are many: the loss of family, lost certainty of status, lost opportunities, the untold lost lives, the result of battles in physical and psychological combat. But the greatest loss the film describes is the loss of the self.

This tale about the aftermath of war, class division and identity is as haunting as the period of history that gives it context. Its subliminal message: we are all casualties of war.

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