24 September 2018 | Pjtaylor-96-138044
Perhaps the slowest film I've ever seen, yet it's strangely compelling.
For a while, 'The Little Stranger (2018)' is more than intriguing but the problem is that it's just incredibly slow, and I do mean slow - to the point that it quite possibly feels like one of the longest films I've ever seen, despite its relatively short 110 minute run-time. This initially feeds into a sort of refreshing restraint and willingness to take its time but eventually removes all sense of urgency from the piece. It's not even a 'slow-burn', really, it's just slow. Still, this isn't the death of the picture. It leaves a conventional pacing behind, instead moving towards a more long-winded and subtle style of storytelling that distinctly marks it as an adaptation of a novel - a medium in which the same time-frame and lack of conventional genre-elements would be infinitely more accessible due to the access it affords to its characters' inner thoughts. This approach is certainly distinct, and appreciated, even if it isn't entirely successful. Much of the picture is told through hints, which you do have to look hard to see, as the majority of the narrative seems to focus solely on its protagonist and his relationships to the other core players as opposed to anything 'spooky' or 'supernatural'. In reality, this isn't really a 'horror' film at all, despite being essentially marketed as such. It plays out much more like a straight drama, with some mysterious and maybe even ghostly elements added infrequently into the fray. Even so, there's an intermittent yet powerful sense of something unseemly going on behind the scenes. It's actually explored in a skilful yet tenuous manner that eventually reveals its debatable but, either way, decidedly unique concept and, even, execution. The feature makes you wait for its more powerful moments, with its final shot possibly being the key to answering its many questions. I say "possibly" because almost everything is purposely open-ended, though I feel there is a definite preferred reading. It's a shame, then, that some moments seem to be slightly more explicit than they perhaps ought to be and that a couple of perspective shifts feel ever so slightly out of place, included simply to inject some 'excitement' into the narrative. While you can certainly feel the length, it's never exactly boring and I think that these more intense sequences ought to have been omitted to maintain the otherwise rigid first-person perspective and to really hammer home the story's ambiguity. Speaking of our protagonist, he is especially straight-faced and maintains a stiff upper-lip throughout. This can sometimes make him a tad difficult to empathise with, mainly because it is difficult to know what he's thinking or, more importantly, feeling at any given moment. This portrayal is vital, though, as the restraint he shows plays into the themes of class so integral to the narrative. Though he often makes stubborn decisions, we typically understand his perspective and know what he has or hasn't seen. Plus, when it is called for, a wide range of emotions can be seen bubbling behind his eyes and it is these moments that mark Domnhall Gleeson's performance as much more nuanced than it might, at first, appear. The other characters don't hide their emotions as much but the fear of being impolite or perhaps being viewed as 'of unsound mind' tends to get the better of them. All the actors do a great job with the material, especially Ruth Wilson who delivers a fantastically layered performance that often says a lot without saying anything at all. Overall, the feature does do an excellent job at emulating the classic ghost stories from the 1800s, the kind in which nothing is explicit and the scariest thing that happens is if an ill feeling grips the narrator. It does genuinely feel like a novel translated straight to the big-screen, for better or worse. Furthermore, it's a different take on a well-worn genre, one that eloquently calls back to its roots while taking a more restrained approach than perhaps usual. It's interesting, especially in its themes and ideas, but it isn't always entertaining and it does become slightly less engaging during its mid-section. Still, I'd say it's an enjoyable experience on the whole. 6/10