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.

“Regression” movie review

RegressionIntimately disturbing and suspenseful. Emma Watson and Ethan Hawke star in a film that is one part crime drama and one part supernatural thriller. Inspired by actual cases and claims of growing Satanic cults in the Midwestern part of the country in the late 80s and early 90s, Regression follows one detective’s journey through science, superstition, and organized religion to discover the truth of what happened to a seventeen year old young lady named Angela (Emma Watson) who claimed her father molested her. Opening with the interrogation of her father, Detective Bruce Kenner (Ethan Hawke) is confronted with the conundrum of a suspect who does not deny the vomit-inducing allegations, but is greatly struggling to remember what happened. Cool color temperatures, dreary weather, effective acting, and a creepy small town all come together to make creepy psychological thriller of good versus evil.

Occurring at a time that reports of Satanic cults with blood curdling rituals began to hit a high, Regression brings you face to face with now-discredited psychological therapy practices, blood sacrifice, and sexual deviance. Follow detective Bruce Kenner as he attempts to put the puzzle of what actually happened to Angela together in order to solve this perplexing mystery. First approaching this as a disturbing but typical minor molestetion case, Kenner quickly learns that there is much more to this case than meets the eye. As evidence is uncovered and truths are made known, this investigation goes much deeper and crosses public safety and family boundaries.

This is one of those plots that is difficult to analyze without giving away key parts of the mystery. If you enjoy watching films that contain prolific symbolism and question institutions that exist for physical and spiritual protection, then you will undoubtedly find this film, from the Weinstein Company that flew under the radar, intriguing. Although it is definitely a slow burn, it never moves too slowly and does provide enough of a hook to keep you going. Be sure to pay close attention to every line of dialogue because (hind sight being 20/20 and knowing the ending) there are definitely clues dropped here and there that all point to the answers for which Kenner is looking.

The investigation at the core of the plot is three fold: spiritual, scientific, and legal. Bruce Kenner partners with both a local psychology professor and a reverend to uncover what happened to Angela. As one might expect in a movie such as this, the professor and reverend have vastly different approaches to this mystery. For psychology students or professionals watching this film, you will witness the practice of regression as it plays a significant part in the investigation. The aforementioned practice also raises awareness to invasive psychological therapy techniques. As this film technically falls within the horror genre, it is definitely not short on social commentary. With physical evidence in short supply and a suspect who cannot remember what happened, Kenner relies upon the psychological evidence gather by the professor. Little do our investigators know that these aggressive interview techniques play more into the mystery than they could have known.

Ugh. There is so much more about be plot I’d love to analyze but that would take the fun out of watching it and ruin the mystery for you. So switching gears. From a technical perspective, the film is not remarkable in any way. Neither is it lacking in cinematography or direction. However, movies in this sub genre of horror can so often feel and look like a Lifetime original movie, especially because it includes a significant female character who claims to have been molested. Thankfully, director Alejandro Amenabar (The Others) provides audiences with a “Lifetime” plot that is still cinematic enough to avoid the stigma of “another Liferime movie in theatres.” Emma Watson and Ethan Hawke display excellent acting prowess along with a few of the other key players in this narrative. For the most part, the acting is on par with this crime drama. All the filmmaking elements come together nicely to keep your attention for the hour and a half runtime.

If you enjoy mysteries that confront science and religion, then you will definitely enjoy this film. Right now, it is one of the movies included with your Amazon Prime subscription. Rated R for some visual sexual content, it is pretty tame as far as rated R movies go. There is a gritty and real feel to the movie that might be a little too terrifying for some viewers. However, this IS a psychological thriller that contains many of the earmarks of a good horror film.