A24’s “Hereditary” (2018) horror film review

Arthouse meets mainstream in this outstanding horror film! This terrifyingly good nightmare will haunt you long after you leave the theatre. After all the hype A24’s latest generated out of the Overlook Film Festival, many were wondering if it could live up to the accolades. Suffice it to say, it did all that and more. It’s been characterized by many as The Exorcist for a new generation, and rightly so. In fact, elements of the plot, setting, and characters can be likened to not only The Exorcist, but The Shining and The Witch as well. When you have a film that’s being compared to two of the pioneering films in supernatural horror and a popular modern one, then you know the film is exceptional. Relying chiefly upon an overwhelming sense of dread from the onset and intense emotional agony, Hereditary will assault your mind and eyes with that which cannot be unseen or unfelt. Wrier-director Ari Aster’s thrilling masterpiece will likely join the canon along side other great horror films as it is one that pushes the boundaries of what a horror film can do. Unsettling beyond measure, this is the type of film that leaves a lasting impression upon the minds and eyes of the audience. Furthermore, the danger of describing this film in too much detail can mitigate the phenomenal experience that should be this film. Not for the faint of heart, I suggest taking someone along with you to watch this amazing horror film unless you want to brave the disturbing narrative alone.

Following the death of not so beloved Ellen Leigh, her daughter Annie Graham’s family begins to uncover cryptic secrets of a bizarre and terrifying nature. Annie’s ancestry contains generations of psycho-social disorders that begin to point to a sinister family heritage. When a tragic death befalls the Graham family, the beautiful mountain home turns into a house of nightmares. The deeper Annie goes into the grim history of her family, the more she unravels a sinister secret that will test the limits of human psychology and just how far one will go to protect loved ones while remaining sane. When the search for answers peals back the vein between the physical and supernatural worlds, Annie learns that her family’s inherited an insidious fate of the darkest of natures.

Hereditary delivers a new kind of horror, or should I say a classical approach to the post-modern horror experience. Classical in the sense that it relies upon the auteurist craft of visual storytelling, complex characters, and an overwhelming sense of dread brought on my the score and cinematography to assault your mind, ears, and eyes instead of simply terrifying the eyes. Instead of including cheap jump scares, prolific gore, blood soaked murders, or terrifying images, Hereditary transfers the horror from the screen into the minds of the audience. When a horror film gets into the mind of the audience, that is truly where the horror lies. What isn’t said, heard, or seen is far more powerful than what can be seen with the naked eye. Clearly the suspenseful nature of the film is taken out of the Hitchcock playbook while the horror craft is inspired by the Kubrick (The Shining) and Friedkin (The Exorcist) approaches. Audience are kept on edge and pleasurably uncomfortable  (Carol Clover’s pleasurable unpleasure theory) by sequences of events that cannot be completely discerned as being real or figments of the Graham family imagination, given the heritage of mental illness. You will be terrified by, not only the uncanny events and sinister secrets of the film, but the dark family psychodrama with characters suffering from internal torment.

Toni Collette’s captivating, terrifying performance as Annie Graham is one that screams Oscar contender. We will be hard-pressed to encounter another more compelling and gritty performance the rest of the year. Although horror has always been popular and bankable, it has largely been passed over by The Academy until recent years with major wins by Get OutThe Shape of Water, and even Ex Machina’s visual effects. The genre that can trace its cinematic roots back to the dawn of indie and commercial motion pictures is finally being embraced at the Academy and Golden Globe awards. There are no shortage of reasons why critics and fans are praising everything about Hereditary. What’s there not to like??? There is little doubt that Collette’s portrayal of a tortured daughter and reluctant mother will be the most most exceptional performances of a female actor this year. Whether talking horror or other genres, the role of Annie Graham will go down in the record books as one of the most gut-wrenching characters of contemporary cinema. Her command performance is spellbinding as you get forcibly sucked into this twisted world of a family-heirloom evil that is showered by outstanding remarks by critics and fans across the spectrum. With landmark wins for the horror genre for actor, actress, picture, and more, it’s entirely possible that we got a look at one of the films that will earn many nominations and even some wins at the next award season.

It’s important to note that this isn’t simply a “scary movie.” Scary horror is simple to achieve; sheer terror, nightmare-inducing horror is difficult to create. The former is mostly concerned with the moment; include a jump scare, some violent gore, or a creepy figure. Whereas with the latter, the writer/director is pre-occupied with creating a simple plot, complex characters, and an atmosphere filled with dread to successfully carry the film from beginning to end. Hereditary is frightening on every level. To Hereditary’s credit, it delivers what audiences want plus subverting the expectations of the genre to generate true primal fear in the experience of this horror masterpiece. It’s far too easy for for a writer/director of a horror film to give audiences what they want to see. The danger in that approach is delivering a film that only has temporary value. Like getting a sugar-rush for energy versus proper nutrition. The effects of the “scare” provide nothing after the shallow energy has been used. Shallow versus depth. On the opposite end of the spectrum. a horror film that is too deep often fails to deliver what general audiences want to see and only cinephiles, like yours truly, find appreciation in the story. Hereditary contains the kind of masterfully crafted visceral imagery, emotional agony, and psychological trauma that creates a powerful, penetrating horrific experience that will give this film an evergreen life.

Not for the timid, this film will test the limits of your imagination and ability to sleep without fear of nightmares. Brilliantly frightening, this motion picture harnesses the power of how to effectively impact the mind and body of the audience. From moments of sheer terror to tormented souls caught in a dark family psychodrama, throw in a healthy dose of ominous evil and you have a don’t-miss cinematic experience. Exceptional characters, plot, a nightmarish score and more, give this film reachability and material to discuss in future film studies classes.

“Patriots Day” movie review

patriotsdayEmotionally intense–not for the faint of heart. Patriots Day is the dramatic account of the Boston Marathon Bombing and manhunt for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Starring a powerhouse cast on top of extensive research, this film couldn’t come at a better time when there exists such a low general public opinion of law enforcement. Boston Police Department (BPD) shines as it shows that law enforcement officers and officials truly care about the city they are responsible for protecting. Although tragedies often are more conducive for a documentary film, writer-director Peter Berg combines the information found in a doc film with cinematic storytelling techniques to successfully construct a narrative that will rock you to the core and keep you on the edge of your seat. With the inclusion of first person, news, and surveillance footage, Patriots Day does not shy away from the visceral horror that befell the City of Boston and surrounding areas. You think you may know the story, as I did, but nothing will prepare you for coming face to face with one of the most tragic events in modern U.S. history.

Ordinarily, this is where I summarize the plot; but the plot is mostly known all too well. Fortunately, this film goes beyond the news reports and constructs a diegesis (story/narrative) around the stories of eye-witnesses, victims, the wounded, medical first responders, and law enforcement–both local and federal.

Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Kevin Bacon, J.K. Simmons, and the rest of the principle and supporting cast deliver outstanding portrayals of the real men and women who were instrumental in the response to and apprehension of the bombers as well as those who fell victim to the arson and shrapnel. It isn’t often that films depicting tragedies are produced this close to the events contained therein. Occasionally, there are films about tragedies that are truly better suited for a documentary; but, in order to convert it to a cinematic motion picture, a love story is added for diegetic affect. That is not the case with Patriots Day. The focus is on the BPD, FBI, and medical first response to the bombing and massive manhunt that ensued immediately after the explosions. There are certainly romantic relationships indirectly connected to the narrative, but they are mostly included to juxtapose the everyday life that everyone thought they were going to have on April 15, 2013 against the horrifying events that transpired at America’s longest running marathon, which has become such an iconic event each year.

Logistically and diegetically, there is a simple answer as to how this tragedy was so successfully translated to the silver screen so close to the day it occurred whereas other tragic events (mass shootings, bombings, aero-spacial, maritime, etc) are more conducive for and translate to a documentary better. This tragic event is a combination of (1) the explosions themselves (2) the manhunt afterwards and (3) the impressive work of law enforcement. There is more to this story than the bombing itself. Certainly the bombing was the catalyst for the events that ensured afterwards, but the real story is of the incredible actions of law enforcement and other first responders. While there seems to be a general focus in broadcast news media on the negative actions–whether perceived or otherwise–of law enforcement officers, this powerful film shows police officers in a positive light–shows them as individuals who love the city under their protection and stop at nothing to protect the innocent. This is so important in today’s climate of scrutiny of public safety officials.

The cinematography, visual effects, and production design are flawless. So incredibly realistic that you will likely feel transported from your seat into the film itself. To my surprise, the film included interviews with key figures directly involved with or affected by the Boston Marathon Bombing. It’s not uncommon to include photos with textual exposition on the lives of central figures in a historical film; but this film goes beyond telling you “where they are now” or what happened after the events in the film. It includes video footage of interviews–you get to hear from the individuals upon whom the characters were based. I could not think of a better ending to a film such as this one. Patriots Day works because it is the best of what a documentary offers with the brilliance of cinematic storytelling techniques.

For those of you who appreciate historical films depicting tragic events, then this is one that you need to watch. It is not a film to be enjoyed in the conventional sense, but one that packs a powerful message and neither glorifies nor undermines the real historic event. Such a visceral film. Rated R for adult language.

Written by R.L. Terry

Edited by J.M. Wead