Hereditary

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Ari Aster

Starring: Toni Collette, Milly Shapiro, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, and Ann Dowd.

It’s a hard badge to wear, being touted as the scariest horror movie in years. It builds up a certain expectation in the audience. The problem is each audience member will have a different expectation. They’ll each have a different definition of scary and what they expect from a horror movie. Some horror movies grab you by the throat and don’t let go, some take you on a ghost train of a ride, others take their time, seeping into your sub-conscious, unsettling you for days. Some scare you with jump scares, others scare you with ideas. Hereditary is the latter. Ari Aster’s debut feature is a deeply disturbing slow burn of a movie.

The film opens with the Graham family attending the funeral for the family matriarch. Annie, played here by Toni Collette, had a strained relationship with her mother, and is struggling to realise how she feels about her passing. She’s plagued with guilt and grief which seeps into the rest of the family. When another tragedy strikes, things really start to unravel.

To give anything more away would be to spoil the joy of the film. It’s not that there are so many twists and turns, in fact if you’re keyed into the narrative you could easily guess where this story is going, but it is a film that you experience. The less you know about it going in, the more the film can work it’s magic, and there is plenty of magic here. It’s a dysfunctional family drama, that is shot like a horror film. The scares for the most part are all character driven. It cleaves so close to real, everyday emotions, that it manages to unsettle you by allowing you to stare into the characters eyes, trying to figure out what’s going on with them. The film works on a very literal level, but also works as an exploration of grief and guilt, and as a metaphor for mental illness.

The reason this film works as well as it does is down to two factors: pace and acting. The cinematography and editing of this film is sublime. As I said earlier it’s a slow burn, but it works so effectively. The camera lingers on actors faces just long enough for it to feel uncomfortable. It creates images which over the course of the film become more significant, and more terrifying with that significance. It may be slow, but it never feels too long. The acting from all involved is superb, but Toni Collete and Alex Wolff are the standouts as mother and son. Watching both their characters unwind is heartbreaking and disturbing, often at the same time.

Their performances are masterfully directed by Aster, who makes us question them as reliable narrators enough to wrong foot the audience. You don’t know whether what your seeing is a dream, actually happening, or the manifestation of a mental illness. It makes their scenes all the more terrifying. One scene in particular where Alex Wolff is lying in bed, only to have his head grabbed by hands coming from underneath it showcases this. Is it scarier that it was a spirit from the other side grabbing him, or that it was his Mum who now has no recollection of it. It’s these questions, and then not knowing that stays with you past the initial jump scare. This is all bolstered by a fantastic score, a throbbing beat that underlines the whole film, bringing with it a sense of urgency and dread.

If you enjoy the movie for the first hour and a half, then it’s the last half an hour which might lose you. I really enjoyed it, but it’s at this point where the film cuts loose and allows itself to unravel. You’re either going to go with it or hate it. For me, it made sense both in the films internal logic and narratively. It’s an ending which didn’t squash or justify any of my theories I had about what was really going on, but one that worked for all my theories. It has a definite answer, but allows itself to still be open to analysis, due to the unreliableness of the characters we see the events through.

This is not a jump a minute white knuckle thrill ride, but a slow burn, emotionally engaging horror movie. It will stay with you long after the credits role, and you will come away with your own opinion on what you actually just saw. I can’t wait to see it again, just to spot some more puzzle pieces. It’s well directed, well acted, well shot, and well edited. It may not be the scariest horror film ever made, but it’s one of the years best films.

9/10

The Strangers: Prey At Night

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Johannes Roberts

Starring: Christina Hendricks, Bailee Madison, Martin Henderson, and Lewis Pullman.

Whilst the beginning of the film professes that the following movie is based on a true story, if you do a bit of digging the true story bit relates to someone knocking on a door to see if anyone’s home in order to burgle empty houses. The Strangers: Prey At Night is a sequel to The Strangers, although the connective tissue is that the same killers are used, there’s no real story through line, and you could watch this without ever having heard of the original. Original director Bryan Bertino is gone, and incoming director Johannes Roberts directs from a script based on Bertino’s original screenplay. Roberts is best known for low budget flick 47 Metres Down which became a break out hit.

The Strangers: Prey At Night follows a family of four, as they make a journey across America to drop their young, troubled daughter, Bailee Madison, off at boarding school. They have arranged to stay at Christina Hendricks’ Uncles holiday trailer park along the way. They arrive at night to find the park deserted, but with keys left on the office desk. As family tensions build, they are soon interrupted by a team of three masked killers, who without motivation want to toy with and then kill the family. What transpires is a fight to survive the night.

I have to admit, I had one of the most unsettling cinema experiences whilst watching this film. I went to an early morning screening, and sat dead centre, four rows from the front. I was the only person in the screening. About half way I through I found myself looking behind my shoulder, checking there was no one behind me. I guess this shows that if nothing else the film was working, it was unnerving me. If the first film was a tense home invasion thriller, than Prey At Night is a homage to the slasher films of the 80’s. Think Friday 13th mixed with The Purge and you’ll have some idea of the tone of this film.

There is nothing new here. It’s a deeply unoriginal film, but it also manages to be quite fun. The use of 80’s pop ballads is as toe-tapping as it is chilling. The cast all do really well with the material they are given. Especially the youngsters Bailee Madison and Lewis Pullman. They give you just enough to root for them, even if their characters are thinly drawn. Madison, in particular, does well. Her characters back story is hinted at, but it’s never really explained. There’s an inciting incident that sent the family on the trip, that we are told she’s responsible for, but we are never told what it was.

At 86 minutes, this is a fast thrill of a movie, and the short length is a real benefit. Parts of the film reminded me of director Adam Wingard, and his writing partner Simon Barrett. There films You’re Next, and The Guest, are similar as they both take a lot of inspiration from John Carpenter and Wes Craven, but they also smartly subvert some of the tropes, and it would have been nice to have seen that level of intelligence on display here.

What we get is an effective homage to 80’s slashers, that adds nothing new to the genre. It’s well enough put together, and there is fun to be had, but it’s unoriginality leaves it lacking.

5/10

Truth Or Dare

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Jeff Wadlow

Starring: Lucy Hale, Tyler Posey, Violett Beane, Sophia Ali, Landon Liboiron, Hayden Szeto, Nolan Gerard Funk, and Sam Lerner.

2018 has been a fantastic year for horror movies. In the last month we’ve seen both A Quiet Place, and Ghost Stories released. Two incredibly different movies, both of which pushed the genre in exciting directions. Arriving hot on their heels is Truth Or Dare, the latest from Blumhouse Pictures, Jason Blum’s production house which specialises in making low budget horror movies which return huge box office, whilst also pushing the envelope with Whiplash and Get Out. Here he invests in director Jeff Wadlow, best known for directing the middling Kick-Ass sequel. If 2018 has been a great year for horror, Truth Or Dare feels like it should have come out in 2000.

Truth Or Dare follows Lucy Hale’s Amelia, a college student dragged along to Mexico by her friends for Spring Break. On their last night in Mexico she meets a guy called Carter at a bar. Carter invites Olivia and her friends to an abandoned Mission, where they start to play Truth Or Dare. When asked to tell a truth, Carter tells them that he tricked them to come up to the Mission so they would play the game. He tells them that the game is real, and if they don’t play they will die, if they don’t do the dare they will die, and if they don’t tell the truth they will die. They brush it off, but after one of their friends dies when chickening out on a dare, they realise Carter was telling the truth and that they will have to play.

Let’s make one thing clear. I’m probably not the target audience for this movie. This is a film which has got its sights set on 15-18 year olds. The casting alone makes this painfully obvious. Lucy Hale from Pretty Little Liars, Tyler Posey from Teen Wolf, these are some of the hottest stars in American television, all from shows aimed at an audience younger than me. If these are the kind of shows you enjoy, you might have some fun with this movie. If you’re a hardened horror fan, there’s nothing here for you. It moves at a good pace, and the cast do well, but at the end of the day it’s a stupid premise, and the execution is too sincere to have fun with it.

The direction is lacklustre at best. The look and feel of the film is far from cinematic. It’s like binge watching a whole season of The Vampire Diaries, although that comparison is unfair to The Vampire Diaries. There is next to no tension. There are no actual scares; Wadlow is more interested in framing and lighting his good looking cast than actually making the horror in this movie work. It’s laughable at times, but not intentionally. When the kids visit the police station for the third time in a day, you know the movie has no internal logic. I just used the word kids, which is ridiculous, because these actors are clearly much older than the parts they are playing. It’s like all of the bad horror tropes from the 90’s and early 00’s blended into one awful movie.

The biggest disappointment though, is that the film doesn’t embrace the ridiculousness of its premise. The easiest comparison for this movie is Final Destination, which had fun with the way in which it disposed of its cast in increasingly ingenious ways. The deaths in Truth Or Dare are terrible. It’s a strangely bloodless movies, and the deaths are staged so simply, you wish more thought had gone into them, that they’d been smarter. These aren’t characters you are supposed to care about. Most of them you don’t spend enough time with, and the ones you do are pretty terrible people, so their deaths aren’t supposed to hit on an emotional level. Which is fine, but they could have at least made the deaths fun. Alternatively, they could have approached it with a more knowing tone. Used the 90’s horror tropes in a way to make a pastiche of movies like Final Destination.

This film fails pretty much on every level. It’s not scary, it’s not smart, and it’s not funny, at least not intentionally. Save yourself the cost of a cinema ticket, and binge watch a young adult box set, you will get a lot more out of it. Alternatively shove a pen in your eye socket, it will be more fun.

 

3/10

A Quiet Place

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. John Krasinski

Starring: John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Noah Jupe, and Millicent Simmonds.

From starring in the US version of The Office, to action star, to first time director, it’s seems there’s nothing that John Krasinski can’t do, as he makes directing one of the scariest movies in years look easy. It helps that he can enlist the help of his superstar wife, Emily Blunt to join his cast, but the credit for what has been crafted here should all go to Krasinski. In a character driven horror story with a sci-fi premise. There were rumours before it came out that it might be another surprise Cloverfield movie, it’s not. Cloverfield Paradox could only dream of being this good.

The film is set in a near, post-apocalyptic future. Most of the human race has seemingly been wiped out by what you assume is an alien species, but we’re never told where these monsters have come from. The catch is that the creatures are blind, but have super sensitive hearing which they use to hunt down the humans. John Krasinski plays Lee, a man trying to keep his family safe whilst preparing for the birth of another child with his wife Evelyn, played by Emily Blunt. The only way to stay truly safe though is by staying silent.

A Quiet Place is the most affecting horror movie in years. I have to admit, horror isn’t my favourite genre. I don’t get scared by films, and the modern day horror film is all about long periods of quiet leading to jump scares that I find myself bored. This was not the case with A Quiet Place. Tense, and taught throughout, it functions as a completely engaging thriller that had me on the edge of my seat the whole time. The sci-fi setting gave the film a level of intrigue, and the story itself had an emotional edge which helped elevate the movie above its horror trappings.

There’s a lot to be applauded within this movie, but the element that really makes it work is the sound design. It’s no surprise that a film which is about being as quiet as possible hinges on how well the sound works on the film. The diegetic sound, and its use is incredible. The score is non-intrusive, and Krasinski uses both as a tool to ratchet up the tension. An early scene between Millicent Simmonds Regan and her brother is a great example. Regan is deaf, and uses a hearing aid. During the sign language conversation, Krasinski Cuts between close ups of the two of them, the sound transitioning between what the two of them are hearing with the cuts. There’s a rhythm to this, starting slow, and getting faster, and as the rhythm builds so does the tension. It’s impressive stuff.

The film also works because of the emotional core. The film is crafted around an emotional story about a Dad and his little girl. It’s this story that is the real focus of the film. The investment I had in these characters meant that the more visceral moments really hit home. I physically winced and jumped during moments in this film, not something I normally do. This investment is down to both great story telling, and great acting. John Krasinski does well as the stoic father, and there’s a great soulfulness to his performance, his puppy dog eyes exuding pain and torment, but it’s the two females in the film who really wow. Emily Blunt is fantastic, and is given some of the meatier stuff, and Millicent Simmonds all but steals the film as Regan. It’s a performance which announces the introduction of a future star.

A Quiet Place is one of the best horror movies in recent times. It’s a thrill ride of a film, that will have you on the edge of your seat the whole time. It’s tight and taught, but every moment of the film counts. John Krasinski has hit a home run on his first try, with an intelligent and economic use of cinematic tools. There’s also a nice little message of female empowerment. It starts with Krasinski only taking his son to go get supplies and food, with the two women left at home to do the laundry, this is nicely switched at the end of the film. I’m not a huge horror fan, but I loved this.

9/10