Starring Toni Collette, Alex Woolf, Gabriel Byrne, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd
Written by Ari Aster
Directed by Ari Aster
The Babadook. The Witch. Under the Shadow. Many of the decade’s best horror films started off by scaring audiences at Sundance. With offerings as diverse and unconventional as Mandy and Piercing this year, it wasn’t clear which entry would be the standout scarefest. It came as a macabre delight that A24’s latest genre production, shot on location in Park City, Utah, is not only magnificently made – it’s utterly terrifying. Judging by the audible reactions of the film’s audience on January 21st, Hereditary is poised to be 2018’s great horror breakout.
Debut filmmaker Ari Aster crafts a portrait of a wealthy family – Toni Colette as the frustrated artist and mother, Gabriel Byrne as her well-intentioned husband, Alex Woolf as their detached son, and young Tony-winning actress Milly Shapiro, chillingly self-aware as his off-kilter sister. We meet the four family members as they deal with the death of their reclusive martiarch, in perhaps dubious ways; but when bizarre manifestations plague them and tragedies begin to mount, they must confront the possibility that they are cursed.
In its setup, the film appears to be formulaic. There’s a creaky old house with secret photo albums, weird noises, potential apparitions, disturbing nightmares. Aster knows and loves genre – he said as much after the screening – but he is far from complacent with tropes. Because of his original approach, this writer insists that people avoid plot details at all costs. Our audience went in blind, and we were much better for it; the story takes hard detours that seem impossible even once they’ve occurred. Yet, it never loses sight of its central issue: a family torn apart by grief.
Like the best horror films, Hereditary could easily have been a drama. The performances would have pulled it off, too – Woolf is surprisingly, achingly endearing, while Colette astounds in her emotional acrobatics without ever giving up credibility. Because of this, the scary stuff works even more brilliantly. Aster wastes no time introducing us to the supernatural (or is it something else?); and while the film’s second quarter is devoted almost entirely to character, the pace never feels slow. The nightmares are brilliantly structured, never over-the-top or predictable, but not subdued either – Aster’s images are horrifically bold. The visceral effect amounts to almost agonizing dread, the kind that wracks the body and the mind.
Sensory immersion is essential in a scary movie, and Aster commands his world with weird detail and constant style. The cinematography is kinetic and vivid, with pitch-perfect lighting that reveals just enough to chill us; all framed throughout a perfectly creepy house designed specifically for this film. Colette’s character builds miniatures of her family and environments, which serve as a delightfully subtle means of foreboding future horror. While the score feels overwhelming in the first scenes, its scope lends the film an epic quality, suggesting hellish forces beyond what we can see. Aster doesn’t show us all that much, either, until he has to – following the age-old rule of terror. The uneasy performances and clever visual tricks create a thick sense of unease that mounts into genuine fear. It’s rare to be so thoroughly, exhaustingly frightened by a film, and that’s what makes Hereditary special.
The story’s images and decisions don’t always feel connected to each other; but, at over 2 hours in length, there are plenty of foreboding details that go unnoticed on a first viewing. Horror is subjective, so this film is bound to disappoint some viewers – but its incredible psychological power, its emotional depth, and constant supernatural inventiveness all speaks to a new voice in macabre cinema. If this is any indication, 2018 is bound to be another stellar year for the genre – but few films will match the uncanny mastery of this grim, harrowing meditation on the madness of grief, and the way family can destroy us.
Ari Aster’s assured debut terrifies through its phenomenal performances, powerful story and fierce, detailed approach to supernatural tropes.
Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 152 – Cloverfield Paradox & The Ritual
Last week Netflix shocked the world by not only releasing a new trailer for Cloverfield Paradox during the Superbowl, but announcing the film would be available to stream right after the game. In a move no one saw coming, Netflix shook the film industry to it’s very core. A few days later, Netflix quietly released horror festival darling: The Ritual.
Hold on to your Higgs Boson, because this week we’ve got a double header for ya, and we’re not talking about that “world’s largest gummy worm” in your mom’s nightstand. Why was one film marketed during the biggest sporting event of the year, and why was one quietly snuck in like a pinky in your pooper? Tune in a find out!
Meet me at the waterfront after the social for the Who Goes There Podcast episode 152!
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The Housemaid Review – Love Makes the Ghost Grow Stronger
Written and directed by Derek Nguyen
Vietnamese horror films are something of a rarity due largely to pressure from the country’s law enforcement agencies that have warned filmmakers to steer clear of the genre in recent years. The country’s exposure to the industry is limited, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a handful of filmmakers out there that are passionate and determined to get their art out into the world. IFC Midnight has stepped up to the plate to shepherd writer/director Derek Nguyen’s period ghost thriller The Housemaid in hopes of getting it in front of American horror fans.
Aside from a few moments that delve into soap opera territory, Nguyen’s film is full of well-crafted scares and some surprisingly memorable scenes that sneak up at just the right times. For history buffs there’s also a lot of material to sink your teeth into dealing with French Colonial rule and mistreatment of the Vietnamese during the 1950’s. Abuse that, if you’re not careful, could lead to a vengeful spirit seeking atonement.
Desperate and exhausted after walking for miles, an orphaned woman named Linh (Kate) seeks refuge and employment as a housemaid at a large rubber plantation in 1953 French Indochina. Once hired, she learns of the dark history surrounding the property and how her mere presence has awakened an accursed spirit that wanders the surrounding woods and dark corners of the estate. Injured in battle, French officer Sebastien Laurent (Richaud) returns to preside over the manor and, unexpectedly, begins a dangerous love affair with Linh that stirs up an even darker evil.
Told in flashbacks, the abuse of workers reveals a long history of mistreatment that enshrouds the surrounding land in darkness and despair, providing ripe ground for a sinister spirit that continues to grow stronger. Once it’s revealed that the ghost has a long history with Laurent before her death, the reasons she begins to kill become more and more obvious as the death toll piles up. Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle among Laurent, Linh, and the specter of Laurent’s dead wife.
Powered by desire to avenge tortured workers of the past and the anger fueled by seeing her husband in the embrace of a peasant girl, the apparition is frightening and eerily beautiful as she stalks her victims. One scene in particular showing her wielding an axe is the most indelible image to take away from the film, and other moments like it are what make The Housemaid a standout. The twisted sense of romance found in a suffering spirit scorned in death is the heart of the story even if the romance between the two living lovers winds up having more screen time.
The melodrama and underwhelming love scenes between Linh and Laurent are the least effective part of The Housemaid, revealing some of Nguyen’s limitations in providing dialogue and character moments that make us connect with these two characters as much as we do when the ghost is lurking around the frame. What does help to save the story is a well kept secret revealing a connection with the housemaid and the apparition.
Honestly, if this was an American genre film, the limitations seen in The Housemaid might cause more criticism, but seeing an emerging artist and his team out of Vietnam turn out a solid product like this leads me to highlight the good and champion the effort in hopes of encouraging more filmmakers to carry the flag. Ironically, the film is set for a U.S. remake in the near future.
The Housemaid hits select theaters, VOD, and digital platforms TODAY, February 16th.
Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle.
Scorched Earth Review – Gina Carano Making Motherf**kers Pay In The Apocalypse
Starring Gina Carano, John Hannah, Ryan Robbins
Written by Bobby Mort and Kevin Leeson
Directed by Peter Howitt
Let me preface this review by stating right off the bat that I’m a huge Gina Carano fan, and will pretty much accept her in any role that she’s put in (are you going to tell her no), regardless of the structure and plausibility behind it, and while that might make me a tad-bit biased in my opinions, just accept it as that and nothing more. Now that I’ve professed my cinematic devotion to the woman, let’s dive headlong into her latest film, Scorched Earth.
Directed by Peter Howitt, the backdrop is an apocalyptic world brought on by the imminent disaster known as global warming, and the air has become toxic to intake, generally leaving inhabitants yacking up blood and other viscous liquids after a prolonged exposure, unless you’re one of the privileged that possesses a filter lined with powdered silver. Filters of water and the precious metal are in high demand, and only true offenders in this world still drive automobiles, effectively speeding up the destruction of what’s left of the planet. Carano plays Atticus Gage, a seriously stoic and tough-as-nails bounty hunter who is responsible for taking these “criminals” down, and her travels lead her to a compound jam-packed with bounties that will have her collecting riches until the end of time…but aren’t we at the end of time already? Anyway, Gage’s main opponent here is a man by the name of Thomas Jackson (Robbins) – acting as the leader of sorts to these futuristic baddies, the situation of Gage just stepping in and taking him out becomes a bit complicated when…oh, I’m not going to pork this one up for you all – you’ve got to invest the time into it just as I did, and trust me when I tell you that the film is pretty entertaining to peep.
While Carano’s acting still needs some refining, let there be no ever-loving mistake that this woman knows how to beat the shit out of people, and for all intents and purposes this will be the thing that carries her through many a picture. There are much larger roles in the future for Gina, and she’ll more than likely take over as a very big player in the industry – hey, I’m a gambling man, and I’ve done pretty well with my powers of prognostication. With that being said, the thing that does hold this picture back is the plot itself- it’s a bit stale and not overly showy, and when I look for a villain to oppose the hero, I’m wanting someone with at least a shred of a magnetic iota, and I just couldn’t latch onto anything with Robbins’ performance – his character desperately needed an injection of “bad-assness” and it hurt in that particular instance.
In the end of it all, I’d recommend Scorched Earth to fans of directionless, slam-bang wasteland pics with a touch of unrestrained violence…plus, Gina Carano is in it, so you can’t go wrong. If you’re not a fan of any of the above, feel free to skate on along to another piece of barren territory.
Looking to get your butt kicked in the apocalypse with extreme prejudice? Drive on up, and allow me to introduce you to someone who’ll be more than happy to oblige.
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