Every once in a while there comes a movie that studios strain to market. The Little Stranger, the new movie by Room director Lenny Abrahamson, is one such film. What would audiences prefer to see: A haunted mansion movie or an internal drama based on class division in post-World War II England? Of course it would be easier to lure people in to theaters with the former. Speaking over the phone, Abrahamson talked to us about how he prefers movies that don’t neatly fit in genre boxes and his surprise when he learned from this writer that the studio distributed the film, Focus Features, has asked reviewers to hold reviews until the day before release, a clue that never bodes well for movies counting on reviews to hype a movie.
The film is based on the 2009 gothic novel by Sarah Waters. It takes place not long after World War II and follows a young doctor’s secret obsession with the Ayers family. Dr. Faraday’s (Domhnall Gleeson) mother was a maid for them between the two great wars. Now he is called to serve them in a different capacity, treating the man of the house (Will Poulter) for burns suffered as Royal Air Force pilot. Faraday’s regular visits feed into an obsession with the Ayres’ seeming posh life, despite the fact they can only now afford one maid (Liv Hill), and the house is in decay, which may or may not be the source of sounds that bump and creak in the night.
Below you will fill a direct Q&A with Abrahamson edited for clarity and a link to more of our conversation in an article for The Miami New Times.
Hans Morgenstern: This movie is far more than a ghost story, isn’t it?
Lenny Abrahamson: Exactly. We live in a time where we’re used to seeing our films marketed clearly as falling into one or another well known category, but I always loved films that don’t quite fit into those categories. I feel this is one of those films. It is a ghost story, but it’s not just a ghost story. It’s a drama, but it’s something other than that too. There’s romance in it, sort of, of an odd kind, and it defies categorization, which of course makes it harder to describe and to market, but ultimately makes for a richer experience to watch.
It’s interesting, because film critics have been asked to hold reviews until the day before of its release.
You didn’t know this?
No. So no reviews aren’t coming out until the day before?
And what do you think that’s about?
It’s a challenging film. You’ve noted that it’s hard to categorize this film, and I would hate to think the marketing department thinks maybe these critics won’t get it.
Yeah, yeah. You know that’s really interesting. I think you might be right. You know, I’ve total control over the film itself. I have final cut, but I don’t have control over the marketing, and I think I get that it’s still being marketed, ever so slightly, to genre. Even though they’ve softened that from what they could do. But I get it. I understand why they do that. Maybe their worry is that the critics might blow the fact that it’s actually a much more subtle film than the marketing company might suggest.
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You can read much more of my conversation with Abrahamson, including what makes The Little Stranger more than a ghost story and what it’s like to follow-up an Oscar-winning movie in the Miami New Times. It comes out in print this Thursday, but it’s available now online by jumping through the headline below:
The Little Stranger runs 111 minutes and is rated R. It opens in wide release everywhere on Friday, Aug. 31. Focus Features invited us to a preview screening for the purpose of this interview.