Movie review: Hereditary (2018)

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Cast

    • Toni Collette as Annie Graham
    • Gabriel Byrne as Steve Graham
  • Alex Wolff as Peter Graham
  • Milly Shapiro as Charlie Graham
  • Ann Dowd as Joan
  • Directed by Ari Aster

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The Grahams put a loved one to rest…maybe….

Spoiler free

When Annie Graham’s mother dies, you get the sense she won’t be much-missed. It appears that matriarch controlled a vast amount of the family’s daily life, and Annie seems to be building tiny miniatures as a sort of coping mechanism to regain some control (and also to sell as important art pieces). Now that Annie’s mother is dead, her remaining family badly want to reconnect with Annie herself. But is grandma really gone? Her powerful influence still hangs throughout the house, as malevolent as the spirit of the Overlook Hotel, and as sinister – yet humdrum – as the Satanists in Rosemary’s Baby. Just like the Shining, Hereditary operates within a world of almost dreamlike logic and unsettlingly long takes, forcing you to examine every frame for…something that’s not right. Because a deeply sinister threat looms over the household, and the hapless Graham family is soon enveloped by a complete nightmare.

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The overused but undoubtedly horrific image of Toni Collette screaming (even made it onto the official Twitter hashtag).

Hereditary wrings great tension just from the crushing pressure of domestic conformity, of things best left unsaid, keeping the peace within claustrophobic walls. It creates a harrowing family drama that just so happens to involve even darker occult secrets. Secrets so dark that even shrinking them down to dollhouse size won’t make them manageable. The characters simply don’t get the luxury of this heightened perspective until it’s far too late. Annie starts to crack under the pressure of horrible dreams and a painful reality, which chops away at everyone’s sanity, though their father desperately tries to keep it all together. Is the family going mad with grief, or is there really a supernatural threat coming for them all?

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Peter Graham (ALex Wolff) and his unsettling reflection…

Whatever you were expecting, it might just surprise you, despite the huge amounts of publicity that preceded its theatrical release. It’s worth having patience with its slow steady burn, and it looks terrific. The model miniatures are put to amazing use, disorienting and condensing each new horror, so that even the tiny doll version of the deceased grandmother become huge with dread. For the record, this isn’t a typical haunted house story, but it does suggest no one is quite free of the dead either. There are also slightly ridiculous moments, though those absurdities somewhat offsets the constant pressure of anxiety. Even Polanski seemed to understand the ridiculousness of Satanism, with the often funny, but always dangerous, Devil-worshipping neighbours in Rosemary’s Baby.

So let’s try to forget the enormous weight of the hype heaped upon this poor movie. It’s silly to apply such expectations anyway. There’s no way even a film as good as this could exceed them, and calling this ‘better than the Exorcist’ (yeah join the queue) is never going to endear you to fans of that movie (sorry Mark Kermode). Better to judge it, then, on its own considerable merits. This is a brilliantly creepy film, and the miniatures give each scene an unsettling afterburn, where you’re never totally sure what reality you just saw. Events bleed eloquently from one setting to the next, propelling characters into an ever-deeper nightmare world.

Hereditary neatly weaves the guts of Rosemary’s Baby (with its Cultish backdrop) and The Shining (in gliding, ominous mood) together like a gruesome corn doll. I truly hope viewers will keep an open mind about the film, as it has divided reviewers and filmgoers. It is slower than a lot of modern horror films, but if you approach it with an ‘anything can happen’ perspective, and try to let it all in, I think you’ll have an intense and terrifying experience.

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No, it’s not upside-down by accident or anything, this is in the film!

Spoilers ahead

A short note. In a reveal worthy of Lovecraft’s sublime ‘The Thing on the Doorstep’, we learn that their deceased grandmother has been part of a cult determined to raise a powerful demon named Paimon into the body of the next Graham family heir. He prefers a male, though at first poor little Charlie is having to do. Until she’s gruesomely destroyed as part of the ritual, a truly chilling scene. Body stealing is a particularly wicked trope, the ultimate personal violation, and we follow the hapless Peter as he drowns in fear and is a victim of the malice of others. Poor guy never stood a chance. We can assume that he suffered so much in this film precisely to make him a better host, more vulnerable and open to possession. A film that lingers, then. Uneasy and odd, though the final moment is oddly benign…despite the severed heads and naked old people (also a Polanski trait…). Yeah. It’s good. Weird, and good, and we want more of this!

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Creepy little Charlie taking in the view

The good

  • Creeping sense of oppressive dread. Reminds me heavily of the Shining, Rosemary’s Baby, and the Witch, among others.
  • Amazing performance from Toni Collette, the rest aren’t so bad either.
  • Those miniature models are exquisite. The scene where Annie breaks them all is wrenching!
  • The standout moment for me is where the son is in bed and…there’s something in the corner above him that you simply don’t register. Until you do. Eeep.
  • Though let’s not ignore the horrific bit when Annie is banging her head on the underside of the trapdoor. ARRRGH.

The Bad

  • Will not please viewers only there for jumpscares and constant gore. Sorry guys, not this time…
  • Very slow pace.
  • The switch from domestic drama to actual horror tropes might annoy others too.
  • Slightly narmy at times, specifically the scenes where possessed Annie float/swims away behind her son, and also her headless body floating into the treehouse, are ridiculous but also kind of work for the film’s dream logic and suffocation.

 

Quickie Review: Don’t Move (2013) short horror film

Don’t Move (2013) – short horror film

‘Don’t Move’ is the 8th slice in Bloody Cuts’ anthology of short horror films, made by a team of UK film-makers on low budgets.

Directed by Anthony Melton, Produced by Ben Franklin and written by David Scullion it stars Rachel Bright and Jake Hendriks alongside Kate Braithwaite, Beth Cooper, Ian Whyte, Calvin Dean and Martin Skipper.

In keeping with the ‘devil deals gone wrong’ theme this August, we take a quickie look at a great short film from 2013.

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Set immediately after a summoning spell on the Ouija goes horribly wrong, with one person’s heart already ripped out, we join the remaining friends as they play silent statues, trying to survive the hideous demon they’ve (accidentally?) summoned.

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The creature is a special effects joy both in its solid form and its eerie, smoky, slithering one too, stalking the survivors. It won’t leave yet because the rules are very clear. It must take five souls with it, and only one of them may survive. As its starts it’s one down, four to go…luckily, it can’t really see you. Unless of course, you move, or make any noise…

Like ‘Don’t Breathe’ and ‘A Quiet Place’, keeping silent is going to save you…but someone else might screw that all up. What’s brilliant about this is that the tension really comes down to human selfishness. Putting aside whether people who’d summon a demon, especially one with this type of M.O., are trustworthy in the first place, what ensues is a tense, gunslinger-esque shootout as mobile phones and loud noises are used to get another person in the demon’s sights. Or lack of sight. They get away with whispering between them slightly too much, but this demon might easily be toying with them too.

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Reiterating once again that messing with demons only brings destruction and chaos, ‘Don’t Move’ is a schlocky fun ride, gleefully tense and a gory contrast to last week’s more austere Paper Game short film.

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Recommended for all monstrous demon fans!

Monster Mondays: Freddy Krueger

One, Two, Freddy’s coming for you,
Three, Four, Better lock your door
Five, Six, grab your crucifix,
Seven, Eight, better stay up late,
Nine, Ten, Never sleep again….

That eerie rhyme remains emblazoned on our inner ear for good reason. It’s ingenious. Capturing everything wrong about dreams, warning even people who haven’t seen it what it’s about. Nightmare on Elm Street was an inescapable rite of passage for children of the 1980s and Freddy Kreuger’s shadow still draws a long, irregularly scratching line into our collective unawareness.

Our favourite dream monster, Fred Kreuger. With looks like these, no wonder he stays in our minds - and our Dreams.

Our favourite dream monster, Fred Kreuger. With looks like these, no wonder he stays in our minds – and our Dreams.

Freddy has lurked in the inner lives of 1980s kids since we first heard stories about his movies in the classroom. The Eyeball remembers listening to them with fascinated horror during ‘wet playtime’ (not nearly as much fun as it sounds), while we read Eagle comics in the corner. We strongly remember a nine year old boy with access to far too many grown up movies callously dissected the unpleasant final moments of the flesh puppet in Dream Warriors, and Johnny Depp’s final bloody gush in the original film. When we finally saw all the films in a lengthy marathon of low-res second-hand VHS vids, (in our teens, Freddy’s favourite age group) then we were hooked.

We didn’t even care that ‘the rest (allegedly) sucked’. OK, Nightmare 2 aside – which was still an unusual piece of film – they’re all exactly what we signed up for. They brim with weird, unnatural deaths, a properly unpleasant monster, and the heroines who we rooted for as they grew in confidence and took on the ultimate disgusting, predatory misogynist child molester. To wonderful, tough Nancy, and those that followed, we salute you.

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Turn around and cast him out! (Image from Bleeding Dead Films – click to see their site)

But still, Freddy (formerly the more low-key ‘Fred’) has remained the real star attraction. He’s repulsive, he’s in love with hating the world, and he’s a fantastic bastard son of a thousand maniacs. There was something perfect about a dreadful tragedy that made sense to the storyteller in us. As they coated more layers of Freddys backstory onto the franchise, the dreams remained an exciting angle to watch it all from. It’s hard to hate any of the movies when they’re so clearly in love with weirdness, and symbolism (Jung that movie!). In a dream, anything is possible, and the Nightmare films used that to their advantage.

They provided an alternative type of horror to to Jason and, just compare them to the recent string of humourless, torturous Saw movies. Imagination, latent teenage sexuality, strong female characters and a mercilessly playful killer. Freddy will stalk you into the daylight. You can never be sure you’ve woken up – a point drawn out until it squeaked in the unlovable remake.

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The original Nightmare and it’s the best! Your mileage may vary, but you’re wrong, buddy….

So why does Freddy hold such a fascination, when he is clearly so very, very horrible? Most intriguing is that he’s based on a series of experiences and research by his creator, Wes Craven. Freddy was born in the creepy man glaring at Wes Craven from the street when he was a kid, and came to life when he read some real life stories where boys had refused to sleep, and when they did, they died without a known cause. Uncanny. The way Freddy’s popularity gets dealt with in the Final Nightmare is also clever, suggesting he’s really a demon who must be contained by the totem of Freddy Kruger.

He’s also absolutely bloody terrifying because:

  • His picture alone terrifies us, especially if it’s one where he’s grinning at the camera (see above – thanks a lot, Rob Englund!) and he does that a LOT.
  • In a continuation of the first point, even Pinhead doesn’t scare us as much as Freddy does.
  • He’s capable of beating up Jason! (Though we do reckon Pinhead could take him in a sequel)
  • Phone-licker. Eeeew.
  • That hat. Those greasy green and red jumpers. Finger gloves. Sartorially the chap’s already a nightmare.
  • Increasingly smug one-liners. Grrr.
  • The charming way he can snip off all his own fingers and have a big laugh about it.
  • You can’t sleep, so it’s an endurance test we can all relate to. The Eyeball would last about two minutes (tiiiired Eyeball, zzzzzzzzzzz-splat)
  • You might never wake up. Even if you think you have. Repeatedly.
  • He can make your family believe you killed yourself, or that you killed someone else.
  • The Police and your parents will NEVER believe you about him.
  • Your only allies are your best friends at school, and they’re being picked off like flies.
  • Or like cockroaches.
  • You can kill him in numerous ways. But be warned that a dog pissing on his grave is enough to resurrect Freddy so he can murder all the plucky survivors from the previous installment, so basically, if you ever run into Freddy, and think you stopped him…not so much. You’re still all gonna die.

Now, we’ve featured him on the Eyeball today because it was Robert Englund’s birthday last week (June 6th) which makes Mr Englund a highly respectable 66 years old. Happy belated birthday, Robert! It’s amazing how Freddy has taken over his life in so many ways, and he’s never quite escaped the character’s razored grip. It seems odd, but in the early 1980s, Englund actually used to play nice characters! Luckily, Englund seems to love that he’s a horror movie legend, and to the Eyeball and millions of other fans, he always will be.

If you want to know more about Elm Street and Kreuger, then the Eyeball very strongly recommends the awesome 2009 documentary Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy.

Are you off to bed now? Then…grab your crucifix….and don’t have nightmares….