After the grandmother of the Graham family dies, her daughter’s family begins to experience strange and terrifying things.
DISCLAIMER: If you do not like horror movies, let me stop you right here. This movie is not for you. This is a film that ranks with the horror greats, and reminds me heavily of films like “The Exorcist” (1973), “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968), and “The Witch” (2015). This movie is disturbing. It infects your mind and lingers in the dark corners of your subconscious. I’m still thinking about it the morning after I saw it. This movie also revels in evil. It does not glorify it, but it depicts it in a way that is very true to what the face of evil might look like. If this doesn’t sound like a movie you’d watch, this is as far as you need to read in this review.
Great. So… this is the best horror movie I’ve seen since “The Witch” (2015), which, coincidentally, was also released by A24. For the first hour, the film builds character relations, sets up metaphors, and garners tension; the second hour is a roller coaster of genuinely terrifying thrills, twists, and disturbing revelations. I loved this movie in a way one can only love a horror film: I was shocked, mortified, and utterly glued to the screen throughout, but then afterwards, when I walked into my dimly lit room, I couldn’t help but second glance the shadows gathering in the corners, and I cursed myself for seeing this at night. This is a horror fan’s horror film; genre-hardened fans (like myself) will be completely satisfied.
(SOME SPOILERS IN THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH)
The film starts with a funeral for Ellen Taper Leigh, a 78 year-old grandmother survived by her daughter, Annie, and her daughter’s family. It’s obvious that Annie and her mother were not exactly close, but Ellen’s death greatly affected Charlie, Annie’s 13-year-old daughter. Charlie begins to see weird things, and soon, other family members begin to experience unexplained phenomenon. Horrifying things ensue.
I kept that paragraph above as vague as possible; the less you know about this movie going in, the better.
The first thing I want to talk about is the director’s ingenuity and creativity. Toni Collette (“The Sixth Sense”) is an artist that makes miniature dollhouses for a living. The tiny houses and miniature vignettes are everywhere throughout the home, and they serve as a metaphor: the people in this house are only dolls, controlled by forces beyond themselves. The way Aster frames shots throughout this film makes every shot within the house seem dollhouse-like. I thought a few times of Wes Anderson’s style of filmmaking; how almost every shot has symmetrical elements, and the placement of every object in frame is purposeful. Everything in this movie has a reason for being there, and while this movie is much messier looking than a Wes Anderson film (it’s a horror film, it's not supposed to be clean), some of the stylistic choices felt the same. In an Anderson film the “dollhouse effect” makes the characters seems like caricatures; it keeps the tone light and happy. This film has the opposite effect. Though many of the shots are wide and show the entire room from floor to ceiling, the movie feels claustrophobic; the characters seem powerless and small. These types of shots are used almost continuously, and Aster’s directorial brilliance makes it work all the way through to the end.
Another thing I loved about this film was it’s pacing. This film is slow in the beginning, but there are still plenty of disturbing things that happen. It creates a world with an unsettling atmosphere, before revealing it’s dark secrets. The way it builds tension reminded me greatly of Polanski’s Apartment Trilogy (“Repulsion” (1965), “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968), “The Tenant” (1976)- I recommend all of them). Slow burn horror films give the audience a chance to connect to the protagonist, give them a reason to care about what’s happening. This film revolves around a grieving family, and we get to see how each character reacts to the strange happenings that start around their house. Every character has an arc and motivation for what they’re doing, even Alex Wolff’s (“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle”) reaction to one of the most distressing parts of the movie at the end of the first act makes sense for his character, though it drew some strange reactions from the crowd (I’m not going to tell you what happens, see the movie).
Acting is another thing that’s pretty top notch. Horror films, sadly, are not considered as high art as some other dramatic roles actors must play. It’s rare that we see a horror film acknowledged as greatness, rarer still that that greatness is rewarded (Besides last year’s “Get Out”, can you remember the last time a true horror film got nominated for best picture?). As such, schlocky horror films are a breeding ground for acting that many times is more horrific than the movies themselves. Not so in this film. Toni Collette was amazing; her range in this film was incredible. I think this is probably the best I’ve ever seen her. I’d rank her performance with Charlize Theron's in “Tully”, and I’d love to see her get a nomination for this… but we’ll see. Gabriel Byrne (“The Usual Suspects”) also held his ground, though he wasn’t given as much to do as some of the others. This was Milly Shapiro’s first feature, and she was incredibly unsettling. I was actually most surprised by Alex Wolff. I remember him most from last year’s Jumanji remake, and I remember thinking that he was easily the best teen actor among the four main characters. He’s pretty freaking fantastic in this film too; he shows subtlety and depth while remaining believable through some of more challenging scenes.
My only issue at all with this film is that there are one or two scenes that have some on the nose dialogue essentially saying: “Oh, better watch out for this, that’ll come back later!” The rest of the movie is filled engaging scenes that are artfully composed and masterfully directed. I can forgive one or two lines that give away a couple of plot points a little too soon because I honestly had no idea where the movie would end.
As I already mentioned, this is the best horror film I’ve seen in at least three years (watch “The Witch” (2015)- I think that is only slightly better than this- though this is more accessible). I love a good horror movie, and this one is destined to be a classic. I’m calling it now… in thirty years, people will be jealous of you if you got to see this in theaters. Go see it. Go see it now. Go see it twice. It’s worth it.
 This has nothing to do with the review, but A24 has become the studio to watch. I have typically loved their films, only once or twice did I think their productions were just okay… If you’re a cinephile and you aren’t following them, start... Also, footnotes in a review? Who do I think I am? David Foster Wallace?
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