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Ruth Wilson in The Little Stranger.

Nicola Dove/Focus Features

  • The Little Stranger
  • Directed: by Lenny Abrahamson
  • Written: by Lucinda Coxon
  • Starring: Domhnall Gleeson and Ruth Wilson
  • Classification: 14A; 101 minutes

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A ghost story in which the ghosts are secondary, Guillermo del Toro’s 2015 drama Crimson Peak was greeted with shrugs and confusion from audiences, who were expecting something more supernatural from cinema’s reigning king of monsters.

That was mostly the fault of marketing, and it’s a fate I fear may also befall The Little Stranger, a new Gothic thriller based on Sarah Waters’s riveting 2009 novel. Taking pace at a dilapidated mansion in 1940s Warwickshire, England, The Little Stranger is a ghost story in only the faintest, most subtle sense. The film’s ostensible hero, a county doctor (Domhnall Gleeson) constantly seems on edge after meeting the past-their-prime family (led by Ruth Wilson) who eke out an existence at the Hundreds Hall, an 18th-century estate.

Strange goings-on plague the house, but Waters’s work – adapted nicely here by Lucinda Coxon and directed with restraint by Lenny Abrahamson, best known for the Oscar-winning Room – is less concerned with obvious scares than the hidden desires that can drive us mad. Gleeson and Wilson deliver tightly-wound performances, while the ending is more chilling, and perhaps perplexing, than audiences might expect.