Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now


‘The Little Stranger’ and Lenny’s Abrahamson’s Slow-Burn Suspense

"I had to cinematically make the things happening at the house be both chilling and ambiguous."

“What better setting for a ghost story than a dilapidated mansion?” asks David Sims. “Peeling paint, groaning pipes, creaky stairs, and abandoned rooms—you barely need a phantom to complete the picture. Hundreds Hall, the main venue of The Little Stranger, has all the makings of a classic haunted house. It’s a crumbling edifice decades removed from its former glory, filled with the dysfunctional remnants of an aristocratic family.” To read the full article, click here.

Adapted from the book by Sarah Waters, director Lenny Abrahamson’s The Little Stranger tells the story of Dr. Faraday, the son of a housemaid, who has built a life of quiet respectability as a country doctor. During the summer of 1948, he is called to a patient at Hundreds Hall, where his mother once worked. 

The Hall has been home to the Ayres family for more than two centuries, but it is now in decline and its inhabitants—mother, son and daughter—are haunted by something more ominous than a dying way of life. When he takes on his new patient, Faraday has no idea how closely, and how disturbingly, the family’s story is about to become entwined with his own.

“You can practically see the smoke stains in the velvet upholstery, or the lush woodland murals in the drawing room rotting into real nature,” says Guy Lodge. Under the steady, composed gaze of [cinematographer] Ole Bratt Birkeland, in certain shots, even the actors’ faces appear to succumb to verdigris—no accident, one suspects, in a creepingly-paced film that takes its time to show how a ruined environment weathers those living, just barely, inside it.” To read the full article, click here.

“From the first few pages [of the book], I was captivated by the world [Sarah Waters] places us in, this postwar Britain where the class system is starting to fall apart,” Abrahamson explains. “[She] is such an insightful chronicler of human emotions and relationships. In the novel, she combines generic elements, such as the ghost story, with stuff that is way richer in terms of character. 

“As a filmmaker, the idea of making a movie that did that was really interesting. It always starts with character for me, finding an emotional connection with characters. Ultimately it was the book’s double whammy of richness and loveliness that drew me in—it’s both a ghost story with way more character depth than normal and a character drama with this added frisson of something else.”

“It’s a slow-burn horror film, one that has all the sudden scares and moments of pristine fear present in any good movie of its ilk,” says Alissa Wilkinson. But in the hands of Abrahamson, The Little Stranger is elevated by measured pacing that also makes the larger house-based metaphor clear—and the result is both elegiac and frightening.” To read the full article, click here.

“I had to cinematically make the things happening at the house be both chilling and ambiguous,” Abrahamson emphasizes. “If you are trying to make something that is more of a hybrid, that uses generic elements in a different way, it is hard to find precedents. Instead, I worked with my cinematographer and designer to find our version. We did pull references from all sorts of different films, many [of] which had nothing to do with the supernatural. They were mostly about shooting interiors in a very atmospheric way.

“It’s a delicate movie that uses the standard dressing of a ghost story to dig into Britain’s postwar class upheaval,” continues Sims. “Here, the emphasis isn’t on jump scares, but on genuine, pervasive dread. There’s a suggestion of the paranormal, though that dread could simply be the wheels of time turning against the upper-class Ayres family: They’re haunted equally by the loss of a daughter to illness years ago and by the loss of their place in the world as the country changes around them.” To read the full article, click here.

The Little Stranger, says Wilkinson, “makes space for ghosts not just in the plot but in the filmmaking. It strategically avoids showing you too much of anything; sometimes, the camera pushes slowly into an empty room in the shabby Hundreds Hall, making us look all around the frame in search of what we’re meant to be looking at, only to find nothing. Other times, a single shot stands in for an entire sequence of events, forcing us to fill in the gaps with our imaginations and rendering some images much more frightening as a result.”

“The effect is a film that unfolds sparingly. It gives us only enough to encourage us not to get distracted — this is a film you have to invest in if you want to enjoy its satisfying (if still a little mysterious) conclusion. No gesture or shot feels wasted, especially as Faraday’s character grows more complex, and the ending will make you want to go back to the beginning to look for what you might have missed.” To read the full article, click here.

“Abrahamson’s weapon of choice is understatement,” says Justin Chang. “There are no whooshing camera movements, no cheap shocks, no sudden bursts of computer-generated ectoplasm. A pervasive gloom is achieved and sustained using little more than meticulous underlighting, moldering production design and stately compositions that capture the house’s long-faded beauty and its cavernous emptiness.”

“My philosophy in a way is like… OK, you have a still surface of water and you drop a small pebble in and you notice the ripples,” Abrahamson tells Wess Haubrich. “If everything is big and crazy you won’t. So, it’s just to create that quiet sense of concentration so that even the smallest thing which is not quite right gnaws at the audience.

“Using those sorts of techniques to draw people in and to hush the room so that when you begin to introduce elements that are unnerving, they really, really have an effect.” To read the full interview, click here.

“Like some of the best ghost stories, The Little Stranger is in no hurry to solve its own mystery,” Chang says. “Even when Abrahamson allows the steady drip of tension to finally give way to door-rattling, glass-shattering terror, there remains something fundamentally oblique and unreadable about precisely what is haunting the Ayres estate.” To read the full article, click here