Lenny Abrahamson’s The Little Stranger—adapted from Sarah Waters’ acclaimed novel—gives the haunted house genre a makeover. On returning to Hundreds Hall, the grand estate he’d so admired as a child, Dr. Faraday (Domhnall Gleeson) is shocked. The grand mansion is in disrepair. Even worse, the aristocratic Ayres family, from the mother (Charlotte Rampling) to her two adult children, Caroline (Ruth Wilson) and Roderick (Will Poulter), seem to be possessed by a malevolent spirit emanating from the building itself. “You feel you are being haunted by something, but you don’t really quite know whether it could be something supernatural,” notes Rampling. While never giving away the game, The Little Stranger uses its otherworldly elements to explore something even darker and more mysterious—the human heart. “It’s an unusual hybrid of acute social observation, a psychological investigation of character, and a ghost story,” explains Abrahamson.
The Little Stranger is not alone in reinventing gothic and horror genres. With Abrahamson’s film now in theaters, we showcase five other remarkable films—from a scary fun children’s tale to a politically savvy horror yarn—that turn the genre inside out.
Jane Eyre | Haunted love
In his adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s classic Jane Eyre, director Cary Fukunaga reinvests the classic romance with an unruly gothic spirit. Accepting a governess position at Thornhill Hall, Jane (Mia Wasikowska) finds the home of the mercurial Mr. Rochester (Michael Fassbender) a spooky place, filled with dark shadows and deep secrets at the end of every hallway. For Indiewire, it’s “a tale draped in gothic horror that’s actually, you know, haunting.” To get at the heart of Brontë’s bewitching world, Fukunaga was inspired by earlier, eerie adaptations that made one wonder, “What’s beyond the moors in this isolated house, what’s beyond this tapestry in this wall, those creaky noises upstairs.”
Coraline | Scary fun
Coraline proves that not all spooky houses are found in England. In Henry Selick’s stop-motion animated adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s beloved children’s book, the title character (voiced by Dakota Fanning) gets lost in the strange, other world of her new home in Ashland, Oregon. Bored by the rainy weather and her distracted parents (voiced by Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman), Coraline finds a tunnel that leads her to a surprising mirror world with everything she thinks she wants—until she learns the real cost of such a fantasy. Reimagining the genre through the open-eyed curiosity of a child, the filmmakers have created a fantastic world filled with dazzling delights and scary fun. “Coraline lingers in an atmosphere that is creepy, wonderfully strange, and full of feeling,” exclaims The New York Times.
The Beguiled | A new gothic style
The Little Stranger’s plot of people struggling to get by in a grand, but decaying home echoes the set up to Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled. In Coppola’s film, the time is the Civil War and the place is Miss Martha Farnsworth Seminary for Young Ladies in Virginia. The headmistress (Nicole Kidman) finds the peaceable harmony of her secluded world destroyed when her young wards decide to take in a wounded Union soldier (Colin Farrell) found outside the school’s gates. Embracing “the Southern gothic style and the challenge of how to do that in my own way,” Coppola invested her film with her own unique fashion and fiercely feminist perspective. As such, Screen Daily explains, “the film consistently works as both a straightforward psychosexual thriller and something more troubling — almost unspoken — underneath.”
Raw | The way of all flesh
In her debut feature Raw, writer/director Julia Ducournau doesn’t shy away from the blood and gore of the horror genre. She just deploys its shock value for different effects. In what Ducournau calls “a crossover between comedy, drama, and body horror,” Justine (Garance Marillier) is a young vegan who suddenly experiences an awakening of various appetites during her first year at veterinary school. The first blush of sexual attraction leads to a hunger for flesh of all kinds, even that of her fellow students. Calling it “a contender for the best horror movie of the decade,” Rolling Stone points out how “Ducournau knows how to make the vocabulary of horror filmmaking either finesse or bludgeon with a frightening degree of facility” in order to explore the complexity of female sexuality.
Thirst | The soul of a vampire
In the same way that The Little Stranger puts a new twist on the ghost story, Park Chan-wook’s Thirst injects some new blood into the vampire movie. A priest (Kang-ho Song) volunteering for an experimental vaccine test develops the unfortunate side effect of becoming a vampire. Suddenly this man of the cloth is caught between his devotion to God and his insatiable thirst for more blood. Winning the Jury Prize at Cannes in 2009, Park sees his vampire film as an existential drama. “I wanted to tell the story of a character who doesn’t belong to one world but who is torn between these two different worlds, and about the dilemmas that creates,” he explains. For The Los Angeles Times, “Park has created a rumination on morality and mortality that is not at all deadly, but funny and profound and at times intensely erotic.”