Hereditary

JC-FEATURED-IMAGE-new

Year: 2018
Directed by: Ari Aster
StarringToni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd, Gabriel Byrne

WRITTEN BY RHYS BOWEN JONES

A24, the production company that can seemingly do no wrong lately, are back with another unique horror that has gripped the world. Following successful releases like ‘The VVitch’ and ‘It Comes At Night’, ‘Hereditary’ arrives with hype and then some. It premiered at Sundance Film Festival back in January and has since received near universal acclaim, with its marketing proudly and consistently quoting reviews saying ‘Hereditary’ is the new ‘The Exorcist’ or ‘Rosemary’s Baby.’ Whether Aster’s film has the staying power of those two films remains to be seen, but ‘Hereditary’ is one hell of a film.

Annie Graham (Collette), a miniaturist artist who recreates moments from her own life in dollhouse form, suffers the loss of her mother, Ellen, and the film follows her and her family picking up the pieces left by Ellen’s departure. What follows is far darker than expected for Annie and co, as the legacy left by her mother appears to have left a strange curse on the family.

I can’t say more than that criminally short summary will let me. ‘Hereditary’, first and foremost, deserves to be seen as blind as possible. Thankfully, the trailers give nothing away about what you’re going to experience, but you should go in with only the barest knowledge of the plot. What unfolds is an experience like no other that still revolves around my brain days later.

‘Hereditary’ is the sort of film that relies on its actors. Owing to its fairly extreme concept, it requires total commitment at playing the film out as it was intended, letting debut director Ari Aster’s vision appear on screen as intended. Thankfully, Toni Collette and her co-stars are entirely up to the challenge, and more. The performances in ‘Hereditary’ are some of the best of the year, particularly from show-stealer Toni Collette.

Annie Graham feels real. Suffering the death of her mother, and the subsequent monologue at the funeral, you begin to see and feel the pain of her loss. But, it’s not the conventional loss you might expect. As they return to the house, Annie asks her husband “should I be more upset?” It’s a subtle line, but it’s filled with nuance because of their difficult relationship that Annie delves into as she attends a bereavement support group. They had a tumultuous relationship for years, one that linked directly to Annie’s children, Peter and 13-year-old Charlie (played excellently by Milly Shapiro), but she was still her mother. In one stellar monologue at one of the support group meetings – a monologue that you should pay attention to as it holds many keys to the film’s ending – Annie outlines their past conflicts and confrontations that build into who Annie becomes as the film progresses.

Collette has gone to great lengths to understand both Annie and Annie’s mother to create a performance that, if everything goes to plan, will surely earn her an Oscar nomination in January. At the dinner scene (yes, the dinner scene), the emotions of the previous hour or so on film come to ahead in a stunning confrontation between Annie and Peter, that honestly borders on the blackest edges of comedy. Annie’s frustrations all come to the fore and she struggles to get her words out, calling Peter a “little shit” and telling him to stop having “that face on your face.” In a lesser film, this scene would have dropped like a stone, but the film does a masterful job of establishing its characters, so this scene has a raw, emotional power not seen in horror films for years. Collette, for lack of a better term, nails this performance. She takes Annie by the scruff of her neck and makes her her own. It’s a performance that is going to be connected with Collette for the rest of her career, a role that no one else could have played.

Here’s a fact that I still can’t believe – ‘Hereditary’ is Ari Aster’s debut feature. Aster has been making short films since 2011, but the 30-year-old made the leap to filmmaking as a writer-director with ‘Hereditary’, and it’s entirely evident that this is Aster’s vision from beginning to end. The film has a level of confidence about it that I haven’t seen in 20-year directorial veterans. Consistently using tracking shots of his characters as they move around the Graham house, frequently losing track of them around corners owing to the slow speed of each tracking shot, you turn every corner genuinely not sure what you’re going to see. ‘Hereditary’ has shocks and surprises abound, and Aster appears to know exactly what each moment needs. Slow tracking shots, jarring cuts to horrifying images, following the eyeline of a character to offscreen horrors. Aster guides the gaze of his audience to exactly what he needs them to see, but maybe not what the audience wants to see.

‘Hereditary’ has countless scenes of genuinely unspeakable horror. Two spring to mind, but I could mention five or six here. The first is the film’s pivotal scene, the scene that truly launches the film from Act One into Act Two with a frightening, disturbing and upsetting sequence. We know what’s happened, we know how it happened, but Aster withholds showing the immediate aftermath by following a character as they come to terms with what happened, and the camera remains locked on their face or body for the entirety of this scene. Then, when the moment happens, we have one of those aforementioned jarring cuts, accompanied by equally horrifying sounds but horrifying for a whole host of different reasons, as the aftermath is finally revealed. I haven’t seen an audience react so viscerally to a moment for years. There were gasps, screams, elongated “no”’s, and loud “fuck off”’s. I couldn’t speak, I was near enough paralysed to my seat, both needing to look away but unable to take my eyes off the screen, and as I’m reliably informed by my friend, I started to curl up into a ball, a ball that tightened and tightened as the film reached its climax.

The second scene is far harder to describe. I’m sure everyone who has seen ‘Hereditary ‘knows which scene I’m referring to even without saying which it is. This scene is spine-tinglingly scary, causing that ball I was in to become entirely spherical as I seized up in paralysis. What helps it is that this is a scare I’m honestly not sure I’ve ever experienced before. It’s not an immediate scare, there are no sound cues and no cuts; the camera stays locked on a scene and watches it unfold, and the horror reveals itself at your own pace. Some of my audience saw it immediately, others didn’t see it at all, while I saw it after an easy 15+ seconds of it being on screen. I’m wholly serious when I say I’ve never experienced a moment like this in any film before now. It’s a scene that uses every element of filmmaking at once and trusts its audience to engage with the images presented to them. It’s nothing short of masterful and utterly genius.

‘Hereditary’ is an experience. It’s an experience I haven’t had at the cinema for years, feeling a need to run away from the film and never look back while also being stuck to my seat, unable to move due to absolute, unabated fear. It’s a film that is going to divide people massively – walking out of the cinema, some hated it, some were unsure of it, and some loved it. I don’t think the pre-film comparisons to ‘The Exorcist’ and ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ did it any favours. You shouldn’t go into the film with these expectations, nor should you go into it expecting a conventional horror film. It’s a family tragedy story under the umbrella of a horror film. The tragedy only adds to the horror as the film escalates to its finale, and believe me, it escalates. The ending is going to cause discussion for years to come, with revelations coming out about the film on a near-daily basis. I and some of the Jumpcut team were up until stupid o’clock in the morning discussing aspects of the film that only heightened the experience and made me love it even more.

‘Hereditary’ requires your patience and your commitment to let the story unfold at the pace it does. Stick with it. The end result is immensely satisfying, terrifying, and completely brilliant.

RHYS’ RATING:

4.5

Revenge

Year: 2018
Directed by: Coralie Fargeat
Starring: Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, Kevin Janssens

WRITTEN BY FIONA UNDERHILL

‘Revenge’ is a blood-soaked, violent and gory revenge thriller (surprise!) written and directed by French woman Coralie Fargeat. Within the last year or so we’ve had; ‘Raw’ (dir. Julia Ducournau), ‘The Lure’ (dir. Agnieszka Smoczynska), ‘Prevenge’ (dir. Alice Lowe), ‘The Bad Batch’ (dir. Ana Lily Amirpour), ‘You Were Never Really Here’ (dir. Lynne Ramsay), ‘Evolution’ (dir. Lucile Hadzihalilovic) and ‘Blue My Mind’ (dir. Lisa Bruhlmann) – which goes to show that European women are directing some of the best and most exciting genre cinema around at the moment.

Revenge‘ manages to feel simultaneously American, French and African. The landscape looks extremely American, but is in fact Morocco. The main actress is Italian, I have discovered (but speaks with an American accent), the main actor is Belgian, but speaks French to his two friends in the film. The film definitely has an American feel, through an outsider’s eyes, but this works well as the main character Jen (Matilda Lutz) constantly talks about moving to LA and aspiring to make something of herself over there. It is unnecessarily confusing that the film does not have a strong sense of location or a sense of where the characters are from/who they are. However, I believe this was a deliberate choice by Fargeat to make the film seem more universal and also less grounded in reality. The style of the film is definitely paying homage to the American grindhouse genre and the setting has a very ‘Breaking Bad’ feel.

Jen does not appear to be the main character at the start of the film. She is just a bimbo/hanger-on to Richard, a rich man who is having a weekend away, hunting with two of his friends (Stan and Dimitri). However, once shizz starts to hit the fan, Jen very much comes into her own as the protagonist that we, the audience, are rooting for. The film has a pretty naturalistic feel to begin with, albeit in a highly privileged setting. Jen is helicoptered into a palatial modern pad with Richard, who has conveniently left his wife and kids at home. Stan and Dimitri arrive and although they are slightly creepy, Jen fulfills her role as ‘entertainment’, including giving them a poolside dance. The next morning, while Richard is away, Stan rapes Jen, while Dimitri is aware but turns a blind eye. Richard returns and upon discovering the attack, he offers Jen money for her silence. Jen wants to leave immediately and Richard refuses, so she tries to escape. An even more shocking act of violence takes place here and this is when the tone and style of the film changes significantly. This is when the full grindhouse feel kicks in; from the cinematography and editing, to the sound design. As I said earlier, this is also when Jen fully takes the reigns of the film and things are turned on their head.

The use of colour is a big plus in this film; from the claret red blood against the dusty desert to Jen’s neon pink earrings. Sound design is another positive feature, a particular standout was drops of blood falling onto an ant sounding like gunshots. The cinematography and editing are interesting, particularly when Jen takes peyote in an attempt to dull her pain. The levels of violence, blood, and gore go into overdrive here, to the point that they lose their impact because you become desensitized (particularly to the amount of blood). I was not as squeamish about it as I thought I would be, so don’t be put off by this.

Matilda Lutz is clearly the standout here and the whole film would fall down if she were not up to the task. Kevin Janssens is also excellent as the charmingly menacing Richard. His hairy and sweaty chums are the more obvious bumbling villain types, but Richard’s evil is much more insidious. I am excited to see where writer/director Fargeat goes after this. As I said at the start, European women are making some really exciting genre cinema at the moment and (as the kids say), I am here for it. ‘Revenge’ isn’t as successful as some of my favourites from last year (‘The Lure’ and ‘Raw’ being particular standouts), but it is an exciting twist on a well-worn genre. It pulls the rug out from under you more than once and subverts audience’s expectations. It is well worth checking out.

FIONA’S RATING:

3.5

 

 

Mom and Dad

Year: 2018
Directed by: Brian Taylor
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Selma Blair, Anne Winters, Zackary Arthur

WRITTEN BY JESSICA PEÑA

As parents, you’re supposed to protect and care for your children, right? Sign their permission slips, feed them, make sure they make curfew, and one day kill them. No? Well, ‘Mom and Dad’ is so strangely engrossing and completely batshit crazy that you can’t help but enjoy your time watching it. Brian Taylor, responsible for those ‘Crank’ films starring Jason Statham, goes out on a limb here as he tries to create something uniquely bold. There’s no better way to tackle a film so bizarre than to assess it just as ferociously as its titular actor, Nicolas Cage. From ‘Vampire’s Kiss’ to ‘The Wicker Man’, Cage has never discouraged his passion to tackle everything. His career of oddball roles and an Oscar win have led him to this role. We see Cage demolish a pool table all while singing the Hokey Pokey. This is admirable in a way only the Nic Cage could pull off, because after all, he is a treasure-seeker. Alongside Selma Blair, ‘Mom and Dad’ tabs quite the impression, just so long as you forgive its crumbling narrative and abnormal editing. It is ridiculousness wrapped up in pure adrenaline fun.

‘Mom and Dad’ is unlike your usual nonsensical trip. Imagine your modern suburban society. Now imagine it if all parents were to suddenly snap into feral instincts to kill their children. That’s pretty much the premise of ‘Mom and Dad’ and it never lets go of you. It cranks up the psycho and leaves you unsupervised to deal with its mess. Fast-paced and sketchy, it makes its way through a string of violent chases to give the audience an erratic feeling of discomfort without ever really saying anything, but that’s it. There’s nothing more to offer here than a nihilistic approach to parenting. One day, parents just show up early outside of school cafeterias just waiting for that bell to ring so they can wring some necks themselves. It’s oddly amusing to see these same parents tackling and murdering their children running across the football field. The choreography is really loose and wild, allowing for some quick camera work to focus in on the madness.

The film doesn’t take itself too seriously, and for that, we’re grateful. You could even give it a pass as a thrilling comedy. Cage and Blair give convincing performances that snap to fluid hysteria like a weak twig. Cage breaks into a maniacal, kill-hungry father and it’s a no-brainer this performance will be recorded as another cult “freak out” in his career. Cage is unabashedly charismatic and glorious in this role. We couldn’t have expected much else here, and hey, we can really get a kick out of this! Anne Winters and Zackary Arthur star as the two kids trying to escape from their parents’ grasp. They have to work together to overcome this insatiable strike and we can sort of get behind them at some points. The game of cat and mouse gets a strange twist here. More than its unnecessary parent backstories and questionable origins, the film suffers a lot out of its abrupt ending. Maybe we didn’t come in for much, but it leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Nothing is quite resolved and we realize it was just all show, no prize.

If you watch ‘Mom and Dad’ hoping for a critically good film, you’re not going to have a good time and you’re going to be greatly disappointed. It’s the kind of film you put on when you have friends over and you just want to see them squirm at just how laughably insane the film is. Truly, it’s a film better enjoyed if you just roll with its lunacy. It’s safe to say it’s self-aware of how crazy the core concept is, so it plays with its execution, although a complete mess, and gives us a backbone of crazy resilience to feast on. I’ll say it, it’s my favourite Brian Taylor film (though that’s not saying much). Our beloved Nic Cage did not go underused and that’s all we really care about.

 JESSICA’S RATING: 5/10

A Quiet Place

Year: 2018
Directed by: John Krasinski
Starring: John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe

Written by Jessica Peña

Silence can truly be deafening. Even in a packed theater, it’s daunting how a small sound becomes amplified in the absence of others. Sound is the enemy in John Krasinski’s newest film, ‘A Quiet Place’. Yes, Jim Halpert from The Office has grown some exceptional directorial skills and has given us an ingenious thriller about a family surviving in a post apocalyptic reality where monsters hunt you down by sound. Supremely inventive with its world building and familial ties, ‘A Quiet Place’ is cutting edge intensity and it deserves your praise (and money).

A family of five are forced to live their lives in utter silence in order to survive. Creatures with super agility and hearing hunt by sound, and it poses detrimental risks to the family’s fully aware lifestyle. The film has an interesting creature concept that, from the get-go, is well established to the audience. It leaves a few curiosities unanswered, but it introduces enough of these monsters to pique interest. Rather than stretching the imagination of what they look like (like how many modern horrors work), it’s decided that the tension build is given more respectively to the film’s fight for survival and the things they become aware of themselves. What a relief it is to have a film that doesn’t waste time with exposition. We aren’t given any backstory to the family, but it’s refreshing because it still works. Immediately, we are thrown into Day 89 of this tragic stricken reality, and it’s shown just how high the stakes are. The tension begins and lasts throughout the runtime, giving us a visceral, dreaded satisfaction.

Krasinski, who has a writing credit on the film, implements a great deal of dread in the form of its story structure and how exactly the family dynamic plays out. Their natural way of living has been compromised and they have nothing left but survival. You could say this has become their natural way of living, as they’ve perfected alternatives down to using lettuce leaves as plates and felt pieces for Monopoly. In this sentiment, the production value pays off.  It drags us into the tension by letting us in on things unknown to the characters; plot devices that further put us over the edge of our seats. The sound design lends itself impeccably in the way it can make the shatter of a lantern one of the first outbursts of quick desperation in the film. Marco Beltrami’s score complements the way tension transcends and finds a home in the film. Daring, intimidating, and nuanced, it’s easily become a favorite to hopefully seek an Oscar nomination. We’re treading lightly in this world with the family and Krasinski’s direction is well enough to see all of these aspects through to the audience.

Krasinski and Blunt’s chemistry as they take on the roles of industrious, resilient parents is so gratifying and real. Krasinski, a full-bearded, sweater wearing dad here, is meticulously cautious. He’s not over the top great, but he gives enough of himself to sustain a very deep likability. He’s keen to prepare their farmhouse bunker into a sound-proof environment they can live in. Blunt also full heartedly lays it all out on the line and truly is the star here. Her character’s maternal instinct to protect and defend is something that lends a relatability to the film. One major element, as shown in the trailers, is that she’s pregnant. This is used cleverly later on, but it’s just so hard to believe that, in a world where you could literally die if a sound you make is remotely loud enough, you’d be careless enough to become pregnant here. Possibly a cop out to ensure sentimental impact, or maybe just a way for them to find new hope in a desolate existence, it’s still quite reckless to believe. That said, it really doesn’t take away from the film overall.

Blunt and Krasinski embrace their roles with a very realized fear: “Who are we if we can’t protect them?” And it’s at that level when we realize that the “horror” you will find in the film isn’t so much the idea of these monsters, but of feeling powerless to aid and protect your children from these evils. Arguably, it’s as much a deep dive into the insecurities of parenthood as it is a monster thriller, and these themes are carefully merged into a successfully immersive final cut.

Coming off the indie success of ‘Wonderstruck’ last year, Millicent Simmonds is casted here, by the enormous perseverance of Krasinski to get her in, and gives a wonderful performance that truly needs no words to convey. Every pained remark told by the eyes and every intense build is told through her facial features and hand motions. Her signing comes to life in ways that leans us into emotional weight with her inner guilt. Simmonds’ casting choice is highly representative of both the hearing impaired and disabled community, where it’s apparent not enough is done to cast these actors. It’s so satisfying and even more telling to how it touches others in the community. So, thank you, John Krasinski. Moreover, Noah Jupe plays his role stupendously as the young brother afraid of the shift in responsibilities and what’s to come, but manages to step up to the plate quite convincingly to do what he needs to do.

‘A Quiet Place’ is high octane survival in an everlasting slice of tension. The film is so well paced and finds success in these moments of a fear so loud it falls silent. John Krasinski pulls out all his tricks to quietly convey the kind of suspense that will lead among other successes this year. Thrilling and nail-bitingly good, you’ll find yourself forgetting to exhale.

JESSICA’S RATING: 8.5/10

Ghost Stories

Year: 2018
Directed by: Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson
Starring: Andy Nyman, Martin Freeman, Paul Whitehouse, Alex Lawther

Written by Lucy Buglass

For years, mankind has pondered over the existence of ghosts, demons and the paranormal. Many have claimed to have experienced it firsthand, while others dedicate their lives and careers to debunking those experiences. It seems to be a question that no one has been able to answer or prove one way or the other, and this fear of the unknown has been the basis of a number of popular horror stories.

Based on the stage play of the same name, ‘Ghost Stories’ follows skeptic Professor Phillip Goodman’s (Nyman) investigation of three unsolved cases, each one detailing a different haunting. After meeting with his idol and fellow skeptic Charles Cameron, and feeling deflated when he begins to question his lifelong skepticism, Goodman meets with former night watchman Tony Matthews (Whitehouse), teenager Simon Rifkind (Lawther), and businessman Mike Priddle (Freeman) to learn about their firsthand experiences with the supernatural. The film is split into three segments, allowing each character to explain their case through the use of flashbacks where we get to see exactly what happened to the characters.

Throughout these flashbacks, Nyman and Dyson have utilised a number of popular horror techniques that will make you jump out of your seat, or hide behind your hands.  There’s a serious feeling of unease throughout the entire film, and you have no idea what’s going to happen next. Even as an avid fan of the genre, I found myself genuinely terrified during a large portion of the film. ‘Ghost Stories’ knows exactly how to pace a horror film, and how to leave an audience uncomfortable yet unable to look away from the screen. Whilst the jump scare is inevitable, the film doesn’t overuse these and instead finds ways to build tension and fear, which actually heightens the experience because you find yourself trying to predict when something’s going to pop out at you. It leaves you on edge for the entire ninety minutes, which in my mind, is exactly what a horror film should do.

The stories told by each of the men are gripping, and the actors all do exceptional jobs of portraying their characters. Each of the men interviewed by Goodman are very different in their class backgrounds, beliefs and personalities, but are united in their adamancy that they did experience hauntings and that they left them completely shaken up afterwards. This reinforces the idea that the supernatural can target anyone, and leave anyone feeling helpless. Particular praise has to be given to Alex Lawther; after seeing him in season 3 of ‘Black Mirror’ I had high hopes, and he delivered. He’s certainly one to watch and I look forward to seeing what he gets up to next.

‘Ghost Stories’ is incredibly British in nature, mixing the right amount of dry humour and satire into what is an utterly terrifying experience overall. Other critics have said it’s the best British horror film in years, and I couldn’t agree more. It’s an incredibly gripping story that has a lot of twists and turns, and tugs at all of your heartstrings. Alongside the characters, I went through a number of emotions and felt fully invested in their lives. These are all characters that feel familiar, they’re your average human, which throws realism into the mix. Being able to identify with characters in a horror film makes your fear 100 times worse.

This film is best experienced with as little context as possible, if you walk into it completely blind, I believe you’ll get maximum enjoyment out of it. The trailers have done a great job at keeping it as vague as possible, which was a bonus. There’s nothing worse than trailers giving everything away in a few seconds. ‘Ghost Stories’ does have a twist ending, but I thought this was done brilliantly and I personally was unable to predict it. Nyman and Dyson have put so much effort into crafting an intense, thrilling, mysterious story and it’s seriously paid off. I’m now hoping ‘Ghost Stories’ will be returning to the stage soon, because I’ll be first in line for a ticket!

Lucy’s Rating: 8.0/10

Unsane

Year: 2018
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, James Greer, Sarah Stiles, Mark Kudisch

Written by Jo Craig

“Is she or isn’t she?” asks the tagline of Steven Soderbergh’s first horror-thriller, addressing the timeless conundrum of diagnosing one’s own sanity when no more shit could possibly hit the fan. Soderbergh’s affair with retirement was put on hiatus for the production of 2017’s ‘Logan Lucky’ and this uprising — from the directorial afterlife — has facilitated the release of his answer to the B movie genre.

Premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in February, ‘Unsane’ highlights Claire Foy in her first departure after Netflix’s ‘The Crown’, where her noteworthy display of poise and gumption forms paranoid working girl Sawyer Valentini. Still suffering with psychological trauma after falling victim to stalking, Valentini seeks counselling from a local institution (filmed in the abandoned Summit Park hospital of Pomona, New York) where she becomes involuntarily admitted and harassed once again by her stalker; or so we’re lead to believe.

Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer’s joint original screenplay with Soderbergh follows Valentini’s unreliable mental stability over a seven day period. This timeline somewhat reflects the ten days it took Soderbergh to shoot his iPhone 7 Plus creation that excels at enhancing themes of intrusion and exploitation. Camera angles are innovative from the outset — shooting from lighting fixtures, underneath desks and bar tops — that allow audiences to experience spying from the antagonists point of view.

The stalker in question is Joshua Leonard’s David Strine — continuing his hair-raising demeanour from TV’s ‘Scorpion’ — who succeeds at making skin crawl as the guy nobody wants to have outside their bedroom window. With no disrespect to Leonard, Strine carries an unhinged expression you wouldn’t hesitate to jab under the circumstances. The central figures play well together in a game of cat and mouse and build a convincing familiarity with each other that validates their exhausting history.

Foy’s Sawyer Valentini — mythical as her name might sound — is an advocate for headstrong women and sheds light on unspoken mental health issues. Her character refuses to play the victim card and Foy frequently ignites the rebel spark and mirrors the insurgence we would all act upon in helpless situations. This hair-pulling daymare has undoubtedly given Foy the platform needed to showcase her talents outside playing royalty, swapping a well-spoken dialect for a few growling f-bombs.

‘Unsane’ initially becomes mislead when one of Soderbergh’s Hollywood pals makes a juggernaut cameo, injecting an odd dose of satire you would only expect from the Coen Brothers. Furthermore, where time was taken to evolve the complexity between hunter and prey, the denouement sadly settles for a clichéd final chase that ultimately weakened its antecedent originality.

If anything else interrupts this lucid dream, it’s the writers — whose highest credit is the 2006 bubble-wrapped rom-com ‘Just My Luck’ — and their inability to honour one train of thought. By no means is the story nonsense or disengaging — as it reimagines the clawing stress-dream we’ve all had — but rather adds too many rational explanations that contradicts the allure of mystery. Trippy double-exposure and bleak cinematography — from Soderbergh’s pseudo name Peter Andrews — aids the first-person experience by displaying the visual effects of pill-popping. However, it is forgotten that audiences are paying to be mind-fucked and will accept and even welcome some corridors to be left in the dark.

For what was initially approached as a student film — going as far as letting Foy apply her own makeup — production company Fingerprint Releasing made an underwhelming $6 million at the box office on its opening weekend, finding it relatively easy to rake back the impressively low budget of $1.2 million. Largely applauded in Claire Foy’s favour for her composure outside Buckingham Palace, ‘Unsane’ exercises Soderbergh’s capabilities of working as a one-man show (director, editor, writer, DoP and camera operator) and offers a compelling cerebral maze to work through, despite leaving neon exit signs towards the end.

 Jo’s Rating: 7 out of 10

Veronica

Year: 2017
Director: Paco Plaza
Starring:  Sandra Escacena, Bruna González, Claudia Placer

Written by Abbie Eales


Set in Madrid in 1991 and based (extremely loosely) on true events, ‘Veronica’ tells the chilling supernatural tale of the 15 year-old titular heroine and a series of unexplained events taking place over a few days.

Veronica is the carer for her three younger siblings, while their mother is mostly absent, a fleeting figure in their lives who spends her days and nights working in a local bar since the death of the childrens’ father. While Veronica’s friends are experimenting with smoking and boys Veronica is left with the mundane role of young carer, cleaning, cooking and acting as babysitter to her siblings.

The film is set in familiar horror territory; an eclipse and a convent school. Scary nuns and the world being plunged into darkness provide a solid start for supernatural horror. Amidst this backdrop Veronica and her friend (with interloper to the friendship and experienced older girl Diana)  try to contact Veronica’s dead father through a ouija board in the basement of the school. Very quickly the seance takes an unsettling turn and Veronica has a terrifying seizure.

Veronica finds herself in the school nurse’s office where the event is explained away as anemia or low blood pressure, leading her to reveal she has not yet had her first period. Thus we stumble into the real main theme of the film, the changing pubescent female body, which has long been a source of great fascination and horror.

Paco Plaza keeps with the urban high rise setting of his previous films ‘[REC]’ and ‘[REC 2]’ (which are two films which I find genuinely chilling) to great effect. Employing a ‘Rear Window’ approach to exploring Veronica’s own stunted teenage years he shows the stark contrast of a teenage girl in a neighbouring building who is enjoying all the normal teenage freedoms of dancing, making out and being looked after. Meanwhile our heroine slowly unravels under the weight of responsibility of being parent to her much younger siblings while tackling her own changing body, forcing her to straddle the two worlds of childhood and adulthood.

While the film could be viewed as another ouija board driven supernatural horror, an alternative explanation for events is firmly apparent, making ‘Veronica’ far more compelling viewing than many of it’s horror counterparts. Veronica’s mother uttering ominously “I need you to grow up” framing the narrative for the rest of the film.

Sandra Escacena is mesmorising in the title role, managing to capture both child-like innocence and a building anger and passion, all the torment of hormonal teenage years coming out in rage filled bursts, which may or may not be related to a summoned demon. Her siblings  are also superb, with the two bickering twin sisters Irene and Lucia (played by Bruna Gonzalez and Claudia Placer) displaying sass and verve, while young Antonito (Ivan Chavero) manages to be supremely cute without being irritating.

The special effects are largely practical and in-camera, which is when the projection of Veronica’s haunting is at it’s most effective. Indeed the appearance of the children’s father is an image that will remain with me for a long time. Some appearances of the spirit are a little hokey, but these are always the moments when we see the horror through the childrens’ eyes.

The real test of effective horror isn’t so much the experience while viewing, but what it does to you afterwards and somehow Veronica got firmly under my skin, making me sure I’d firmly locked my doors before going to bed.

Like ‘The Babadook’ and ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ before it, ‘Veronica’ works best when it is rooted in the claustrophobia of family life and the terror of both childhood and adulthood. The hokum of being based on true events should remain secondary to what is an excellent piece of coming of age horror.

Abbie’s Rating: 8.5 out of 10


 

Winchester

Year: 2018
Directors: Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig
Starring: Helen Mirren, Sarah Snook, Jason Clarke, Angus Sampson, Bruce Spence

Written by Jo Craig

When whispers emerged of the unlikely collaboration between ‘Jigsaw’ directors The Spierig Brothers and British national treasure Helen Mirren, heads were turned ‘Exorcist’ style. Then followed the news that the production was in fact an early 2018 horror with ghosts and shit — starring a Calendar Girl? That’s when heads began to roll. The simple fact that our native Dame would be taming the supernatural in similar fashion to ‘Insidious’’ Elise Rainier was enough to peak interests and resign trepidation towards ‘Winchester’ being another cheap thrill-fest — combined with the brilliant tagline “Terror is Building”.

The intriguing true story of estranged widower Sarah Winchester — heiress of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company — brought validity to the narrative surrounding her 1906 creation of a nonsensical mansion — a labyrinth of rooms, corridors and stairways to nowhere that she paid constructors generously to keep expanding. The premise — if independently construed — would be hard to swallow without the affirming “Based on true events” intro that lurches fear factors to high alert. That being said, a handful of real account adaptations struggle to restrain from filling in the blanks of these events with confusing drivel. Winchester battles to be different but is ultimately lessened by plot babble, despite incorporating a unique perspective on guns (particularly the Winchester rifles) being the deadliest of weapons.

The auspicious beginning is made of a prologue that’s quick to establish the haunted house blues, painted with a palette of musky cool tones warmed by candlelight that’s visually quaint — much like admiring an old antique. Ben Nott’s artistic direction adds sophistication and texture to the storyboard featuring a beautiful introductory scene of San Francisco in twilight. Whether this was Michael and Peter Spierig’s inspiration from the ‘Saw’ franchise — that leans heavily on rich saturation — or a stroke of creative intuition that facilitates Winchester’s authenticity and becomes a gift for the eyes. Combining the senses of sight and sound, there’s an appreciation for the early 20th Century dialogue (penned by the Spierig duo) that’s pleasant to follow and highlights the beauty of the English language — emphasising the poetic creation that’s been abandoned by an age of abbreviations and hashtags. Both elements initiated the tale with hopeful expectations that was sadly crushed under the weight of the spooky house.

The grand unveiling of Helen Mirren’s Mrs Winchester quickly pegged her as enchanting and the main attraction of the manor from Hell. As the novelty of the opening perks wore away, Mirren competed to keep elegance in the air that rarely failed to intrigue but inevitably lacked the superhuman strength to withstand the conclusive earthquake — posing the question, does Helen Mirren really belong in this niche genre of horror? Unfortunately, not this time. Her eagerness that changed the usual suspects of a scary movie was admirable, but the story’s direction had her drowning in a sea of dark matter with no hope of revival. One could wonder what Winchester could have been in the hands of James Wan or Guillermo del Toro that would have played to Mirren’s finesse and Sarah Winchester’s complexity — Simply put, she was too good for this production.

Hired to assess Mrs Winchester’s mental state is Jason Clarke’s Dr Eric Price — an unorthodox psychologist who favours ingesting poison to mask the clichéd troubled past — aptly facilitating the “Is this scary shit real? Or is it all in my head?” scenario — a neat justification, but all too spoon fed for an audience that knows better. Price is introduced as a typical agnostic doctor who considers fear to be conquerable by the mind and ghosts to be a fabrication of delusion — so, denouncing these steadfast beliefs should take a bit of persuasion, right? Wrong. Scream queens show more restraint to investigating a noise in the basement.

Sarah Snook carries a credible presence in the 1906 setting — as Mrs Winchester’s unnamed niece — mothering a rather insignificant child who might as well have been a mute. Both share residence at the mansion where Snook’s maternal presence was unconvincing, stifling any emotional connection with the audience that could have been channelled by her independently. The niece showed strength in character that was grounding, but her resilience became underused instead of restoring balance to the chaos unravelling in the central storyline.

The Spierig’s deliver on visuals and hint at ‘The Conjuring’ styled tension, however Winchester still stands at the end of the day, a self-induced heart attack — poor jump-scares and a rushed conclusion to fit into a 99 min runtime that purged any defining qualities established from the outset. Essentially what should have been a biopic of Sarah Winchester and her architectural wonder, became a building of grandeur and intricacy that was unjustly ignored as a character itself and belittled to accommodate an unfulfilled farce. For all its disorientating features of doors and staircases that led to nowhere — the Winchester mystery house remained unexplored and misused.

Helen Mirren has poise and a strange seduction to convince you into believing that ‘Winchester’ is a game-changer — only to fool and leave you insisting through gritted teeth that she and Mrs Winchester deserve better. True stories can work in their candor, where the mystery of unknown details is more powerful than cheap Pollyfilla — and calls for a suitable director to build a durable platform and showcase this Dame’s talents in horror.

Jo’s Rating: 5 out of 10             

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Year: 2017
Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos
Cast: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Alicia Silverstone, Raffey Cassidy, Sunny Suljic

Written by Jessica Peña

It’s not often enough a film will come around that will leave you in awe, laughing, cringing, and downright terrified. Yorgos Lanthimos’ ‘The Killing of A Sacred Deer’ will find you in these states and will claw at your psyche well after its ending credits. It carries very dark comedic tones and chilling subjects. The film examines the absence of any virtue and becomes one of the most unsettling and gratifying cinematic experiences of the year.

Dr. Stephen Murphy (Colin Farrell) is a renowned cardiovascular surgeon who lives a comfortable and pristine suburban life with his wife (Nicole Kidman), son (Sunny Suljic), and teenage daughter (Raffey Cassidy). It becomes known that he’s struggled with an alcohol problem in the past, leading to the death of a man on his operating table. Here’s where things get a little interesting. Held with a guilt, Stephen meets Martin (Barry Keoghan), the deceased patient’s 16 year old son. Martin begins to spend time with Stephen over the course of a few months. They get to know each other a little through meeting each other’s families, dinner visits, and ‘too close for comfort’ conversations. Martin tries endlessly to have Stephen in his life. There comes a point where Martin begins to cross the line on what he says to Stephen, making his family uncomfortable, and so Stephen ends all forms of communication with Martin. The youngest child, Bob, suddenly loses all feeling and mobility in his legs, causing Stephen and his wife to rush him to the hospital.

With no scientific or realistic explanation, the family is stumped. Martin shows up and asks Stephen for ten minutes of his time. Reluctantly, Stephen agrees. This is where Martin abruptly continues his ominous front. He tells Stephen to choose which of his loved ones to kill. If no decision is made within a timely manner, they will die one by one. First, they will lose function of their legs. Then, they will lose their appetite. Finally, they will begin to bleed from the eyes before their eventual death. Martin delivers this line so simply and so poised that we begin to wonder if he is the Devil incarnate. Martin’s vendetta becomes clear and Stephen’s world gets turned upside down. This is where ‘The Killing of A Sacred Deer’ shoots its cold hearted madness through our soul.

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We watch misfortune strike this family and Stephen almost doesn’t know what to make of it all. Something that Lanthimos nods to is his recent film ‘The Lobster,’ where dialogue and normal human reaction is made to appear desolate. His characters are so very modern but there is a certain way of speech that will transport us deeper into the film, but will also bother us. In many instances, people would not react the way that these characters act. It throws a person off. Farrell and Kidman give exceptional performances that aren’t over the top, but succeed in helping such an eerie script. Beside Lanthimos’ excellent direction, Keoghan as Martin is what terrifies us the most. The young Dublin-born actor makes it seem so effortless in presenting this dead-eyed character. It’s not explained where Martin gains this supernatural power to bestow onto Stephen’s life. Another thing Lanthimos enjoys is presenting an automatic acceptance that this is just how things are. We do not question it and we do not argue. The notion of sacrificial trial, justice, and human nature is all challenged through Martin’s menacing proclamation. ‘The Killing of A Sacred Deer’ looks to rattle us and it does a fine job at it. The first shot we see is a close up of an open heart surgery to the sound of jarring classical opera music. Be careful in choosing to see a film so unconventional and Earth-altering.

The gratification comes to us through its visual nightmare-like world. From slow pans to long wide shots, the minimalist cinematography by Thimios Bakatakis captures the rarity of the film entirely. Lanthimos completely throws us into this very dark and ethereal atmosphere. It can’t be measured just how much discomfort this film will make you feel. The soundtrack itself thickens tension and raises heart rates. Even the melody of the Christmas tune, “Carol of the Bells,” becomes something haunting when we remember what we’re sitting through. Accordionist Janne Rattya lends her horrifying “De Profundis” to the film, which sets the tone of no hope for Stephen’s family. With its devastating Greek tragedy theme, all the components of sound and visuals will meet in the middle where it pains us the most.

Sincerely noted, this film won’t pan too nicely to a lot of people. If you are a fan of psychological thrillers that stop at nothing to wreak havoc, this may be for you. Dark comedy makes a bigger occurrence in the film than one would think. We find ourselves laughing at something (that was probably meant to be taken very seriously in context) and then immediately feeling uneasy again. It’s quite a refreshment, honestly. It makes the film so distinct, just how we like it. If you’re alright with welcoming bizarre behavior, insane metaphors, and uneasy scripts, be my guest. We need more films that aren’t afraid to terrify us in such a way. Yorgos Lanthimos continues to prove himself as an uncanny heavyweight among directors and this film, as strange as it was, serves to break barriers.

‘The Killing of A Sacred Deer’ does not know forgiveness. It squeezes your senses until you can longer withstand the agony. It surprises you with its antics and decisions. It is heart-wrenching and will not stray away from you. It is certainly a sinister experience that won’t leave your thoughts even days after its viewing. You find yourself leaving the theater puzzled, disgusted, stunned, and most of all, unsettled to the core. Lanthimos gives us one of the most unnerving and masterful pieces of art in recent cinematic times.

Jessica’s Rating: 8.5 out of 10