The Little Stranger ★★★

Audiences are going to *hate* this film. And that's a shame, because it's an ingenious little Gothic bauble.

Like 'Crimson Peak', it's barely a horror film, and I suspect it's going to suffer from a marketing campaign that suggests otherwise. Scratch that: It's not really a horror film at all. It's more of a period drama with sprinklings of cobwebby mystery and bumps-in-the-night. Think 'Jane Eyre', but with the supernatural bits kept fiendishly ambiguous rather than being explained away.

That's really what's going to aggravate folks, I think, apart from the almost complete absence of traditional jump-scares: The film's refusal to commit to explanations. This isn't the blank enigma of something like 'Picnic at Hanging Rock'; it's more like Olivier Assayas' recent work ('Clouds of Sils Maria', 'Personal Shopper'). There are multiple rationales for what we see.

I'm working my way through the Sarah Waters novel on which this is based, and it handles that ambiguity a bit differently than the film, and also a bit more effectively. Still, the discipline of this film is impressive. It's a story that's all about uncertainties and subjective interpretation, but that paradoxically demands that director Lenny Abrahamson and writer Lucinda Coxon be very *precise* in how they render every detail.

It's exceedingly slow-burn and tightly entwined with all sorts of fine-grained British class resentments and historical intricacies -- which means it requires patience and attentiveness on the part of the American viewer. Domhnall Gleeson does some career-best physical acting here, using his severe haircut and neat mustache and every little facial twitch to great effect.

This film is going to disappear from theaters quickly, much like this year's other flawed but innovative genre work from a talented director, 'Annihilation'. And much like that film, it deserves to be seen by a wider audience.