Director: Ari Aster.
Aspiring and promising director, Ari Aster makes this his directorial debut; being a self-proclaimed horror film fanatic this is his creation from start to finish, writing the story and taking total control of the film in its production. But whilst being suckered into the hype and an enticing trailer, Aster, and much of the crew, consider this more of a drama about one family during with tragedy as oppose to an all out horror and I’m not sure how I would have perceived the film knowing this before.
When the rather reclusive Mother/Grandmother passes away, the rest of the household start to experience strange and eerie occurrences as if being haunted, and incidences only intensify after more suspicious tragedy befalls the family. It’s a story that if I read as a book, would have probably found it terrifying and if I did read it as a book before watching the film, I probably would have disliked this film even more.
Collette plays Annie, the mother of her two children Peter (Wolff) and his younger sister, Charlie (Shapiro) and wife to Steve (Byrne) all of whom are trying to deal with the grieving process of losing the matriarch of the family in their own way. The performances are superb with Collette probably giving her best role to date, a part she was reluctant to accept until she read the script. Both Wolff and Byrne are great in support but it’s an outstanding debut from Milly Shapiro, who plays the awkward and weird little sister.
Aster’s love for the genre is certainly evident here as it pays great homage and respect to classic 70’s horror and is undeniably beautifully shot and captured but the horror content just doesn’t do the film any justice. It’s not filled with your traditional horror jump scares but refines a more psychological horror presence, sadly something that didn’t work on me.
The production in its entirety is impressive, from the miniature props to the entire house being built on a soundstage in Utah; opting for practical effects as oppose the visuals being added on in post-production, like a self lighting candle and chalk on the board, all of which made the production team revert to old school methods. Collette has even commented that Aster is the most prepared director she has ever worked with.
Colin Stetson’s score is something of a mystery, with his deep, low vocals. It’s definitely a horror score but tracks like “Mothers & Daughters” I found quite soothing with “Reborn” being strangely uplifting. You could comfortably listen to it in isolation without it giving you creeps, and is one of the best scores of the year. Whether this contributes to the lack of fright, it’s unclear. As for the sound, it’s certainly one of the best sound engineered films this year, so good it’s noticeably so and would be very surprised if it doesn’t receive an Oscar nomination.
I rarely check my watch during a film but I had done so here at least three times with the first instance happening after an hour. It’s doesn’t lack tension but the build up takes too long making you forget or ignore the suggested mystery behind the story. Reading that original cut was 3hours long makes me feel thankful, as the theatrical release really does drag out and feel more like 3hrs than the 147min runtime.
But look, I get it, just because it did nothing for me doesn’t mean it isn’t a good film for others. Much like last year’s The Witch, this is definitely a Marmite horror; you’re either going to rave about this for months, if not years as being the scariest horror in ages or, absolutely hating it, thinking it’s a waste of time. Maybe I blinked and like something from a Derren Brown’s subliminal video, totally missed something that’ll trigger my inner fear; maybe it happened while I was looking at my watch; or maybe it was because my environment was amongst other bored cinema-goers. This is certainly one of those horrors that’ll be a litmus test to which genre of horror you’re more of a fan of.
So, because I’m likely to shock people from both ends of the spectrum by giving this a generous, yet honestly and objective score. It wasn’t scary to me and sadly found way it way too boring but I can’t deny the brilliance of craftsmanship and performances.
Running Time: 2
The Cast: 7
Job Description: 1
The Extra Bonus Point: 0