I am not into horror movies. It is not a genre that I got to discover on my own, but rather through other people, and their choices of movies. For the longest time, I associated the genre with mindless killing sprees, where some force of evil is systemically stabbing or devouring a bunch of people in some sinister surroundings, where the poor idiots were not supposed to be in the first place. I also never understood why people like to be scared to death for 2 hours straight. It is not something I would call as entertainment. Not to mention the fact that for the last decade or two, horror movies really sucked. They were mostly made of jump scares and shaky cam footage, with zero talent before or behind the cameras. But they were cheap to make and turned in profit, but not on my expense, mind you.
The movie starts with the funeral of an old lady that was survived by her daughter and her family. We learn early on that the old lady and her daughter were never really close, but they did reconnect after the youngest grandchild has been born, a girl named Charlie. The daughter, Annie, is an artist. She makes scale models of buildings and scenes and is working to meet a deadline for an exhibition. The 2 kids, are both in high school, but while the eldest, Peter, is doing fine, Charlie is a special need child. Not long after the funeral, strange things start to happen, and Annie is slipping more and more off her course.
This movie is unsettling. Although, how it affects a person is rather subjective. I don’t think that it got to me as much as to some other people, given the way they have described their own experience, but non-the less, it was an uncomfortable watch. It starts slow, first with some exposition, followed by some foreshadowing, but nothing too creepy. Then, as things move along, everything gets more and more sinister. It is worth noting that, while the story unfolds with a steady pace, the creepiness of the movie is in a constant crescendo. It never backs down; it is only building up to higher and higher levels. At one point, there was a naked old man standing in a doorway, barely lit by the moonlight that came through a window in the otherwise completely dark room. He was smiling. It was a 5 second shot of somebody that only appeared there and then in the entire movie and my skin was crawling. The story itself is rather simple and straightforward. There are no big twists that come out of thin air, just for the sake of it. Every act of the movie is like small chapter, that works towards something immediate. From grief to anger, from anger to guilt, from guilt to insanity. Everything is kept simple; everything is kept tight. The movie is written and directed by the same guy, Ari Aster, so he did a great job, even more so if you consider that this is his first feature film ever. If his follow up work will be on the same level as this one, it is safe to say that we might have a great director on our hands. That being said, I have to praise the actors as well. Milly Shapiro as Charlie, is most effective. I mean, just looking at her I was already uneasy. She is supposed to be this innocent, special needs child, but all I saw was the walking embodiment of depression with the mind of a 5 year old, that only feels good if it is drowning puppies. This is not her character in the movie, it is just the picture of her that I have in my mind. She just sets off all of my internal alarms. The character of Annie, the mother of the 2 kids, is played by Toni Collette, and I do not think that I have to explain how good she can be in a movie. She did win the Oscar for best Leading Actress this February, and she isn’t holding anything back here either. The intensity of her performance is on the same crescendo as the movies creepy factor. From a calm and collected person to someone that is always over the top. And after seeing her in this film, I can tell you that she is the female equivalent of Willem Dafoe. Actually, I would love to see a movie, where the two play brother and sister that always bicker. But the stand out performance, in my opinion, belongs to Alex Wolff, who plays Peter, the eldest grandchild. He has a rather restrained approach to the role, which provides perfect balance between the amount of events his character needs to process being a teenage boy and his desire to stay sane, to hold onto reality. The “less is more” principle works wonders.
Overall, I do not like this movie. I can appreciate it as great horror movie, I will even recommend it to those who are horror aficionados. They will love it. The story is powerful; the direction is flawless and the performances are great. It is just not the movie for me.