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Horror Movies Reviews

Family Trauma Is the Scariest Fright in A24’s Latest Midnight Masterpiece

Hereditary
Rated: R
Runtime: 2 hours 7 minutes
Director: Ari Aster
Starring: Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Gabriel Byrne, and Milly Shapiro


Equal parts The Exorcist (1973), Manchester by the Sea (2016), and Kill List (2011), Hereditary is the latest horror offering from acclaimed, independent studio A24. After wowing critics and disillusioning general audiences with It Comes at Night (2017) and The Witch (2015), A24 has returned to theaters with a new psychological thriller/horror film that more-or-less enjoys (suffers?) the same fate as its two predecessors despite being substantially more mainstream than either.

Hereditary is about a repressed family whose collective fate descends into a nightmarish reality after the passing of the family matriarch: Annie’s (Toni Collette) mother. Annie, her husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), and her two children Charlie (Milly Shapiro) and Peter (Alex Wolff) all begin to unravel as they are forced to cope with the consequences of the deceased grandmother’s secretive past. What more can be said about this film without undercutting its first-viewing impact? Well, without delving into specifics, I would add that this movie is ultimately about agency; or better yet, the tragedy of its absence.

alex-wolff-peter-hereditary
Despite what the trailers would make it seem, Peter (Alex Wolff) is integral to Hereditary

It goes without saying that, like all A24 selections, this film is impeccably shot, scored, and edited; however, where it surpasses The Witch and It Comes at Night is in the performances. Toni Collette’s performance as Annie is easily the centerpiece of the film. There’s a handful of extended scenes with Collette that are hypnotically authentic, but it’s her dinner table monologue about halfway through of the second act that almost singlehandedly puts her in the Oscar conversation. Similarly with Casey Affleck’s incredible performance in Manchester by the Sea (2016) and the Best Actor Oscar that year, I left Hereditary convinced that Collette will take home Best Actress for this film come the next Oscars. She isn’t the only one flexing their acting chops here; her in-film son Peter (Wolff) does a phenomenal job portraying the subtle nuances of a carefree, introverted teenager suddenly thrust into deeply traumatic situations. In fact, Hereditary‘s promotional material positions Peter’s sister Charlie (Shapiro) as the parallel protagonist with Annie, and while that rings true, it’s actually Peter who’s the emotional conduit for the audience.

Director Ari Aster brilliantly utilizes Wolff’s reflective performance to convey the film’s real horror: fear of family. This is where I find a prime similarity between Manchester by the Sea (my favorite film of 2016) and Hereditary. Both films share a particular resonant intensity centered around blame, grief, and mourning. Like ManchesterHereditary isn’t afraid to go to some very dark places; places that most people have probably been through in some way, shape, or form in their own families. In fact, while there are undeniable horror tropes in it (primarily in the final 15-20 minutes of the film), the majority of the film is just this family dealing with loss and trying to cope with the fallout of that loss, which the film accomplishes with an aptly patient and introspective temperament, or to put it bluntly, a slow thematic pace, albeit with bursts of insanity throughout.

I’m starting to see a trend in movie-going culture with films like mother! (2017), Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017), Annihilation (2018), somewhat with Avengers: Infinity War (2018), and now with Hereditary, that point towards a universal rejection of creative subversion. Each of these films, while all enjoying their fair share of passionate fans (some more than others), have been heavily scrutinized by their detractors predominately on the basis or off a measure of how much they subvert some arbitrary preconceived expectation. mother! does not follow a conventional storytelling structure, which for a significant amount of people makes enjoying that film impossible. The Last Jedi is so vehemently hated by a very vocal faction of Star Wars fandom because the film holds no loyalties to traditional Star Wars tropes. Annihilation subverted its own marketing and as a consequence misled general audiences into seeing a film with a lot more difficult content than initially let on, so they dismissed it. After 17 MCU films that more or less stuck to a familiar formula with the heroes coming out on top at the end, Infinity War rubbed a lot general audience the wrong way with its untypically dark content and bleak ending – my family hates the film for that reason. To the average moviegoer, Hereditary is just another out-of-touch and mismarketed indie film disguised as a crowd-pleaser, which is apparent by the film’s D+ Cinemascore rating. However as a fan of A24’s previous horror outings, I have to say that Hereditary has lot more to offer the casual movie-goer than an It Comes at Night.

Keeping in mind how harsh audiences have been towards Hereditary, I feel that I should qualify my 10/10 score. If slow burn indie horror has been your thing or you’re open to new genre experiences, you will find that Hereditary successfully has its cake and eats it too. But if you’re uninitiated to this brand of dramatic horror and are looking for a Conjuring clone, which is perfectly fair, then this one probably isn’t for you.

10/10
Horror Scale: 9.5/10

Categories
Horror Movies Reviews

‘Revenge’ Is a Dish Best Served Sun-Baked and Bloodied

Revenge
Rated: R
Runtime: 1 hour 48 minutes
Director: Coralie Fargeat
Starring: Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, Kevin Janssens, Vincent Colombe, and Guillaume Bouchède


Revenge is the latest in a string of extreme French horror films, i.e. Irreversible (2003), Martyrs (2008), and more recently Raw (2016), as well as a spiritual call back to the rape-revenge exploitation flicks that riddled the 70s (The Last House on the Left (1972), I Spit on Your Grave (1978)). Yet, while its contemporaries are seldom accessible to the typical viewer due their disturbing content and distressing imagery, Revenge manages to transcend the off-putting nature of its inciting violence to make for a stylish, highly entertaining (and bloody) action thriller that even casual audiences can sit through, assuming they aren’t too squeamish to begin with.

Director Coralie Fargeat’s first foray into feature film follows Jen (Matilda Lutz), a young, attractive American mistress to French millionaire Richard (Kevin Janessens), as she accompanies her secret boyfriend on a weekend getaway to his vacation home in the middle of the desert, where he has also planned to meet his two friends, Stanley (Vincent Colombe) and Dimitri (Guillaume Bouchède) to embark on their annual hunting trip once Jen returns home from their retreat. But when Stanley and Dimitri decide to surprise their friend Richard by showing up at his isolated estate a day early, a scantly-clad Jen draws their predatory eye. Relations seem cordial at first, but tensions quickly rise when Richard steps away for a morning, and Jen is raped by one of the friends. Anxious of the legal (and familial) troubles to come from the transpired sexual assault, Richard, Stan, and Dimitri, attempt to silence Jen and chase her to the edge of a desert ledge before Richard unceremoniously pushes her off the cliff to her supposed death. Now left-for-dead, Jen struggles to evade her ex-lover and his band of hunters with her near-vital injuries and quickly takes to the offensive to exact her revenge on the audacious bunch.

What separates Revenge from those earlier exploitation flicks is the subtle, yet transformative ways it brings the dated sub-genre into the 21st century where widely accepted notions of feminism and and gender politics have been muddled to the point of ideological regression. But before I get into the content of the film, I want to briefly touch on its technical merit.

Revenge1
Kevin Janssens puts in a perfectly repulsive performance as Richard, the primary target of Jen’s (Matilda Lutz) wrath

Stylistically speaking, exploitation cinema is notoriously known for its poor production value and its sheer ugliness (partly due to technical limitations of the time, but mostly just to be provocative and edgy), which does not make for an enjoyable viewing experience. Revenge circumvents the genre trait with a vibrant and energetic aesthetic that enhances the sense of setting while continuing to evoke that same provocative, exploitation feel. While Fargeat’s kinetic visual style is impressive in and of itself, it’s through her narrative decisions that the film shines.

In today’s social landscape, a film like Revenge could very easily fall in the same reformist feminist hole that actively undermines the majority of mainstream feminist discourse. However, instead of perpetuating a wide-stroke, anti-male fallacy by having the heroine be assaulted by random, faceless men, Fargeat elects to have the rapists be people whom the victim has put trust in, something that tends to be the case in real-life rape cases. She even goes a step further by making the villains men of power in their everyday lives as well. Richard and his two friends are all wealthy CEO’s with families and employees for whom they have dominion over, and through their treatment of the protagonist they quite literally exemplify the problematic dynamics of classism – a social dilemma the French have historically contended with. Ultimately what this means is that the violence that transpires in the film is able to refrain from becoming gratuitous in the wrong ways, all because the underlying politics at work is valid.

Extreme French cinema has cornered the hardcore horror market for so long and has been particularly effective at stirring intense emotions in viewers not just by having the most brutal imagery onscreen (although they often times do), but by bringing a powerful contextual awareness to that violence. This isn’t to say that exploitation films like The Last House on the Left (1972) are not too concerned with the incident politics of their content, but it is undeniable that there is a subtle, meta-contextual difference between a straight-up torture-porn flick like Hostel (2005) and a psychological torture-porn flick like Martyrs (2008), both of which depict extreme violence against undeserving victims. Revenge is that rare deep-cut horror/thriller that is confident enough to deliver the gore expected with the genre without compromising its moral center. And for this reason, Revenge is the perfect toe-dip into the world of extreme cinema for those who are curious and aren’t afraid of a few gallons of blood.

8.3/10
Horror Scale: 8.5/10