Michael Sarnoski’s Pig

Nicolas Cage just wants his beloved pet Pig back in a film that’s a lot more subdued, moody, rainy and melancholic than you might think, a Pacific Northwest tone poem about loss, grief, commerce, loneliness and truffles. It’s a strange brew of genre and tonal elements, but director Michael Sarnoski (in his feature debut, no less) spins them all together like the best chefs for a sensory experience and cinematic recipe that is something masterful, weird, eerily lingering and so deeply, deeply sad I had to watch some South Park afterwards before bed just so the heartbreaking, soul shaking beats of this narrative wouldn’t follow me into my dreams. Cage’s former legendary chef lives a hushed, reverent existence, haunting a stretch of rugged Oregon mountain country and dwelling in a simple shack with his pig, foraging and selling truffles to a cocky industry upstart (Alex Wolff, brilliant) from the city for a meagre living. When his pig is snatched in the night by poachers, he journeys back to Portland to a life and a restaurant scene he thought he left behind to find her, and along with her the last remaining ray of dim hope left in his broken, weary soul. This isn’t just about losing a pig, or finding a pig once again you see, it’s about loss overall, that of Cage’s character and that of the other two principal characters in the story, Wolff’s wayward young “entrepreneur” who has lost the favour of his restaurant mafia kingpin father (Adam Arkin, never scarier nor more bitterly pitiful) who has lost something so deep that he can’t even articulate it in words, and it takes involuntary sense memory to even get him to acknowledge it to *himself*. Sarnoski presents the Portland food scene as a frightening, clandestine mob underworld, a choice that could have easily come across as parody or tongue in cheek but the solemn atmosphere and deadly serious writing make it freakishly believable, I’ve spent time with people who work in that industry and it’s really not a far cry or embellishment from how it actually is. Cage’s performance is one of staggering vulnerability and shaggy, end-of-the-road resolve, a once worshipped god of cuisine reduced to a shambling ghost of greatness, made so by a tragedy he never speaks about and the film only carefully hints at. The poor lost Pig is indeed really his pet, whom he loves dearly, but she serves to represent that which we have all lost at onetime or another, that hidden thing that’s hard to talk about and sometimes makes us want to disappear into the woods of the northwest, live in a cabin and never see another human face again. This is a courageous film for allowing an actor like Cage to explore these painful, challenging themes against a backdrop of food, rain, trees and austere hierarchical czars and barons of fine cookery, a realm that is as fascinating as it is unsettling. Just be careful though man, because to be perfectly candid this film is sad as fuck, like maybe the most thoroughly spirit-dampening experience I’ve had in cinema for awhile, it took me a good hour to shake off the hopeless feeling it leaves you with, such is it’s power. It’s essential viewing for many many reasons, more than I’ve touched on here, but it should be wielded carefully, especially if you have issues with depression or immediate grief. I look forward to whatever comes next from Sarnoski, who has quietly ushered himself onto the scene with a stunningly powerful first feature, and provided Cage with what might be the role of his career so far. An absolute showstopper of a film.

-Nate Hill

Ari Aster’s Hereditary

Hereditary more like Herediterrifying. I know I’m late to the party but Ari Aster’s supremely disturbing chiller deserves all the hype and more, it’s a beautifully designed, aggressively scary bag of fun that walks a line between being deeply, psychologically upsetting as well as otherworldly, supernaturally haunting. It’s striking to find a debut this good from a first time director, but the guy handles all elements seemingly effortlessly and the result is an immersive, atmospheric, competently staged, elemental fright flick that will literally have you sleeping with the lights on after.

Toni Colette gives the performance of a lifetime as a wife and mother somewhat grieving the loss of her own mom, who was a secretive, difficult old goat in life. Her husband (Gabriel Byrne) is somewhat detached, her two kids (Milly Shapiro, Alex Wolff) have their own issues. It isn’t until further tragedy strikes this family that we begin to see fissures crack in both their individual psyches and relationships as a group. Grief is a hell of a thing and it can turn a family dynamic ugly and venomous pretty quick, but there’s something else circling this clan, an intangible malevolence that I’ll shut up about right now because it’s a diabolical thrill piecing it together along the way. I will say pay attention to *every* frame though, as there are clues aplenty embedded in the visual scape. Colette displays several remarkably realistic meltdowns and I shudder to think of the personal process that led her to that level of mania because she’s downright unnerving. Byrne doesn’t do too many high profile films anymore but it’s always great to see him, he underplays it here but is no less unsettling as a guy who seems uncomfortable around his own family, one of the several taboos the film plays with. Shapiro doesn’t do much as the daughter but her unearthly presence alone is enough to get us squirming, she is one weird looking kid. Wolff, on the other hand, is quite excellent and has a couple scenes of heightened distress that are pretty staggering. A shout-out to character actress Ann Dowd too who, I’m happy to say, is getting more work than ever before these days and finally has a sizeable outlet for her talent.

One aspect that makes this such a freaky thing to sit through is that none of the family members, and no other characters in the film in fact, are really likeable characters. They’re somber, sullen, withdrawn weirdos who make heinous mistakes and harbour unthinkable secrets and when the horrors start coming for them it kind of feels warranted. There’s this blanket of mental unrest and familial turmoil that hangs over everything and provides the film with a canvas of unrest for the paranormal horror to gradually encroach on like fog on the horizon, and the mixture makes for an almost unbearable ride through hell that was the scariest viewing experience for me since 2014’s It Follows. It’s also darkly beautifully though, Aster mounts some detailed, artistic and pagan inspired production design that’s like eye candy, he lights the sets starkly and specifically and plays around with miniatures in transitions and shot compositions for a visual experience like no other. Don’t even get me started on the score by Colin Stetson that plays like a nightmare brought to life, as does this masterpiece of a horror classic.

-Nate Hill

“Why did you try to kill me?” A review of Hereditary – by Josh Hains

I do not hate, or dislike, Hereditary. I do not like it either, though I do avidly admire it. To clarify, it is difficult for me to say I like a movie that is so atmospherically dour, so tonally bleak, and so disturbingly grotesque, that makes me feel like I need to bathe in molten lava to burn away the residue of it. However, it’s easy for me to say I admire nearly everything about it.

The same can be said for similarly dark and bleak cinematic ventures like Sicario, You Were Never Really Here (my current vote for the best film of 2018), and Annihilation, to name a trio. Hereditary is as joyless an experience as they come, which makes it inherently difficult to for me recommend to friends of mine whose humongous appetites for horror are in desperate need of some quenching. This isn’t your archetypal, audience friendly and accessible popcorn horror flick one could take a date to and enjoy being scared from, complete with ample cheap or earned jump scares (such as The Conjuring), or heaps of deliciously over the top gory carnage (like in The Cabin in the Woods). I don’t find Hereditary scary per se, just unsettling and disturbing, much like iconic but hollow The Shining.

It is however, the kind of intricate, meticulously crafted psychological horror movie that uptight horror cinema snobs are constantly reminding the rest of us that Hollywood so rarely constructs and releases these days. Nearly every facet of the movie, from the performances (Toni Collette is truly Oscar worthy with her passionately raw performance of a fractured soul) to the cinematography to the editing to the eerie sound design, is handled with top notch laser guided precision worthy of the heaps of praise it’s received for months now since its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 21st. It might not be the best horror movie of the year (which is easily A Quiet Place by miles), or the best movie of the year for that matter (that’d be a huge stretch, considering that honour should most definitely be bestowed upon You Were Never Really Here), but it’s certainly a great little horror picture in its own right.

As great as those and other elements are, the movie becomes dreadfully problematic in the script department after the initial 45 minutes or so. Initially, the movie has absolutely no problem both setting and maintaining a particular psychological horror aura, which is rather sadly, gradually pushed to the side after a major event in the first half hour of the movie, in favour of typical paranormal horror elements. This leads to an ending (that will go unspoiled here), that despite being set-up right from scene one onward, and makes sense to the overarching narrative that’s been told leading up to that point, feels ported over from The Witch (another horror release by the same studio that produced Hereditary, A24), and that doesn’t match the tone of everything that’s come beforehand, and requires one too many suspensions of disbelief in the laughably ludicrous twists. Aside from the tonality issues derived from an unnatural shift in the tone at the midway point in the movie, and a nearly unforgivably ridiculous tacked on ending that doesn’t gel with the rest of the movie, Hereditary is a masterful psychological horror movie bound for the glory of classic horror movie status, though those tonality and ending issues will likely haunt it for decades to come.

As I observed in an article I can’t recall the source of a couple of days ago regarding Hereditary, it’s the “other kind” of horror film, the meticulously crafted, bleak, and unrewarding kind, a rare find these days. The film studio A24 (whom released Hereditary, The Witch, and It Comes At Night), along with Paramount (who’ve also had divided reaction with mother, Annihilation, and the Cloverfield series) and others, seem passionately keen on continuing to churn out these more obscure and psychologically perplexing and taxing horror movies.

I don’t blame them for wanting to.