HEREDITARY – movie review

HEREDITARY

A24
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Ari Aster
Screenwriter:  Ari Aster
Cast:  Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd
Screened at: Park Avenue, NYC, 5/31/18
Opens: June 8, 2018
Hereditary Movie Poster
In his debut feature, Ari Aster—known for shorts such as “The Strange Thing About the Johnsons” which is a dark family melodrama—graduates into a full length picture that goes beyond mere melodrama into the realm of horror.  But “Hereditary” is not a simple slasher movie like the “Friday the 13th” series but is instead for a discerning crowd.  The film will draw people who do not need to see scenes of killings, each one occurring within five minutes of the other, all the cuts edited so quickly you can barely see what’s going on.  Instead Aster is fond of long takes and intense close-ups, with patient buildups heading toward the inevitably concluding mayhem which is foreshadowed in a Hebrew inscription that fortells “pandemonium.”

While the story does not match up to the hype the film received at the Sundance Festival, its chief talking point is a stunning performance from Toni Collette in the principal role of Annie Graham, who lives in a wilderness home of undisclosed location (filmed by Powel Pogorzelski in Utah).  Annie, who creates and paints miniatures, has a mild-mannered husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) who is the only normal person in the family, a teen son Peter (Alex Wolff), and Peter’s thirteen-year-old sister Charlie (Milly Shapiro).  It doesn’t take long to see that something is wrong with Annie and her children, with Steve doing his best to contain the schizophrenic-type rages and impulses of the family, all of which come emerge in full bloom after the death of Annie’s mother Ellen.  When Annie delivers a eulogy for her mother she appears anything but broken up, yet her miniatures depict scenes from her life as though she is intent on holding fast to her personal history.

Yet this obsession with her recent past is based not on pleasant memories of her upbringing but with a feeling she cannot shake off that something was strange about her mother, something relating perhaps to the older woman’s belonging to a cult along with Joan  (Ann Dowd). John, despite her neighborliness and support for Annie, appears to have supernatural powers to communicate with the dead. As though these were not problems enough, Annie must deal with her young daughter’s antisocial behavior and strange appearance and we in the audience catch a whiff of the thirteen-year-old’s macabre activities when she slices off the head of a pigeon that had died when crashing into a building.

The story takes a grisly turn when Peter, forced to take his kid sister to a school party, must deal with a sudden medical emergency when her sister, having eaten some chocolate cake at the party, has an episode of anaphylaxis and must be rushed to a hospital.  She doesn’t make it.  What occurs at a series of séances should not be revealed but should be experienced first-hand by the audience, but don’t expect to be riveted by unbearable tensions unless you have the same outlook on this horror film as some of the attendees at Sundance.

The principal plus is the three-dimensional performance from Toni Collette, who goes from quietly painting her miniatures to a somewhat alarmed concern for her daughter’s awkwardness to an outright breakdown at a funeral and soon, one of the most chilling monologues you’re likely to see this year.  Colin Stetson’s music does it best to ratchet up the tension but there’s little available here that’s memorable; perhaps nothing that will raise the kind of post-performance discussions so indelible in the horror greats like “The Shining,” “Carrie,” “The Exorcist” and “The Sixth Sense”—the last featuring an expertly crafted dinner between Olivia Williams and a missing Bruce Willis.

Rated R.  126 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – C
Acting – A
Technical – A-
Overall – B

THE ENDLESS – movie review

THE ENDLESS

Well Go USA Entertainment
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead
Screenwriter:  Justin Benson
Cast:  Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead, Callie Hernandez, Emily Montague, Lew Temple, Tate Ellington, James Jordan
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 2/21/18
Opens: April 1, 2018
Inline image 1
As you watch “The Endless,” you may wonder where to file its genre.  Is it horror?  No, nobody gets slashed or murdered in any other way; quite the opposite, in fact.  Is it sci-fi?  To some extent only.  There are elements, but there’s no time travel, no new technology to rave about.  Is it dystopian?  Not that either.  It does not show the Earth after nuclear holocaust.  Zombie?  Vampire? What is it?

What can be said is that the low-budget indie is adept at creating atmosphere; more effectively, in fact, than any picture that appeared in 2017.  The music, the elements of fog, the occasional lapse into mumblecore, all create suspense, and the suspense will have a payoff in the end.  As the movie moves forward toward resolution, it picks up from a the pleasant chit-chat of a pair of brothers, steadily toward increasing anxieties as the brothers face an ensemble who at first welcomes them to their long-standing party.  They open their arms to them, try out some tricks such as a tug of war that they join with an invisible foe, to a sense that the good will they enjoyed when first meeting the group is turning to hostility.  At the same time the experience that the brothers are facing is pushing the two of them away from each other, the big brother no longer able to convince the younger one about the desirability of backtracking to their previous unfulfilled lives.

Justin Benson, who wrote the screenplay and co-directs the feature with Aaron Moorehead, are also its stars, one of them even serving as cinematographer.  Think of the money they saved by multi-tasking!  With a total production cost of just a million dollars, the film bears some comparison to “The Blair Witch Project,” which took in many times more than its cost. In a directors’ previous feature, “Resolution,” a man imprisons a junky friend in a cabin to force him to sobriety.  “The Endless” has one scene reminiscent but on the whole is a more developed piece of work than either that or of “Spring,” featuring a woman in Italy who harbors a dark secret.

“The Endless” is all about secrets, gaining intrigue as an audience wonders just what makes the group that the brothers meet so different even from other communal folks who have escaped from the rat race.  When Justin Smith (Justin Benson) and his kid brother Aaron (Aaron Moorhead) receive a videotape in the mail, we can’t help thinking that this will be one of those horror movies about screened events that warn or even imprison the viewers.  This time the tape does not intimidate but rather gives the younger man the excuse to revisit the commune at Camp Arcadia whose members took them in ten years earlier when they were orphaned by a car crash.  At that time Justin was barely able to convince Aaron to leave, to escape from what he calls a death cult, warning that they could be drinking the Kool Aid if they did not bounce.

The members, remembering the escape, are now forgiving.  They show magic tricks including a tug of war with a rope that seems to be attached to a cloud, competing with the two brothers by exerting a powerful force.  A baseball is thrown up and remains suspended in space for a minute before dropping into the hand of a guest.  One again, the older man pushes his brother to leave with him before it’s too late, but Aaron is intrigued, this time demanding the right to remain in the camp for good even if Justin leaves.

The visual effects are neat, especially strong since they are used with restraint, and as the twists multiply and the atmosphere becomes weirder and less explicable, we could expect a powerful conclusion to reveal the secrets of the commune which may have already become so much a part of their visit that it will affect them forever.

Unrated.  111 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B
Technical – B
Overall – B