Tag Archives: Ann dowd

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 They’re somber, sullen, withdrawn weirdos who make heinous mistakes and harbour unthinkable secrets and when the horrors start coming for them it kind of feels warranted.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

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Jonathan Demme’s The Manchurian Candidate

If you ditch the idea that Jonathan Demme’s The Manchurian Candidate is a remake of the 60’s Frank Sinatra flick, you’ll have a much better time watching it without those strings attached (Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris is similarly panned by the misguided hordes). Demme’s version is a new adaptation of the novel by Richard Condon, and in my eyes the far superior thriller. Given a charged military twist, deeply disturbing psychological angles and the powerhouse acting juice of leads Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber and a staggeringly good Meryl Streep, this is where the buck stops with political thrillers. Demme’s narrative is a thickly laced web of secrets, mind manipulation, lies and corruption that isn’t always apparent or clear, given the unreliable, ruptured psyche of ex gulf war soldier Ben Marco (Washington). He’s shellshocked, but not in the traditional sense, and somehow feels as if something went very, very wrong with his unit following a deadly skirmish in the Middle East. His former fellow soldier and friend Raymond Prentiss Shaw (Schreiber) is up for senate election, fiercely prodded and chaperoned by his mad dog of a mother Eleanor (Streep). Everyone from their unit has either wound up dead or suffering from terrifying nightmares, psychosis and brain trauma they can’t explain. It’s up to Ben to trust his dodgy memories, leading him out of the dark and finding what really happened before a vague impending disaster that is Demme’s fulcrum upon which ample, nerve annihilating suspense is built around. Washington is his usual quietly implosive self and makes unnerving work of getting us to believe he’s in real psychological stress but somehow lucid. Streep is the ultimate mommy from hell, and despite the script getting near maniacal with her arc at times, she always sells it as a rogue extremist who only sees her side of the arena and will do literally anything for her son, no matter what the cost to country, colleagues or even herself. They’re joined by an impressive league of supporting talent including Bruno Ganz, Miguel Ferrer, Ted Levine, the sinister Simon McBurney, Ann Dowd, Charles Napier, José Pablo Castillo, Bill Irwin, Al Franken, Zelijko Ivanek, Roger Corman (!), Obba Babarundé, Jude Ciccolela, Dean Stockwell, Tracey Walter, Sydney Lumet (!!) and more. There’s really terrific work from Jeffrey Wright as another troubled former soldier, Kimberly Elise as a fed tracking Ben’s movements who catches feels for him, Jon Voight as a suspicious rival candidate to Shaw and Vera Farmiga as his daughter. What. A. Cast. This was one of the first R rated films I was ever allowed to see in theatres and as such the chills haven’t quite left my spine every time I go in for a revisit. It almost reaches horror movie levels of fright and nightmarish, half remembered atrocities that taint the senate election like political voodoo and give the proceedings a dark, very uneasy atmosphere. Demme goes for a big scope here with a huge cast, large scale story and high impact set pieces, but at its heart it’s a very tense, inward focused story that shows the sickness in power and just what some people are willing to do to get ahead. Like I said, forget the Sinatra version and watch this as it’s own film, it’s an incredibly special, affecting experience onscreen and you won’t find a freakier political thriller.

-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.

Indie Gems with Nate: Wildlike

It’s random netflix time again, where I decided to take a look at Wildlike, a film I’ve never heard of before, and one that I will not be getting out of my head anytime soon. I have a certain affinity for films set in the wilds of the pacific northwest, films that use nature and scenery to accent themes relating to humans (eg. The Grey, Into The Wild). I also saw Bruce Greenwood on the poster, and that guy just seems to have a head on his shoulders when it comes to choosing scripts, so off on this journey I went. Newcomer Ella Purnell is astounding as 14 year old Mackenzie, sent off to live with her uncle (Brian Geraghty) after her mother has a breakdown following a family tragedy. The poor girl goes from the frying pan into the fire though, when it’s revealed that her is sexually abusing her, and may have in the past. The abuse shown in this film is not loud or violent, nor is it melodramatic or designed for shock value. It’s quiet, frank and subtle, the damage of it measured in a glance, a tear streaming down a cheek or a barely percievable shift of weight from Mackenzie when he looks at her. Geraghty is a handsome dude, nowhere near the bespectacled, paunchy clichéof abuser so often seen. He plays it straight, a pleasant and agreeable fellow who can’t even comprehend the kind of damage he’s doing. The scenes of abuse themselves are quick and fleeting, made all the more uncomfortable by how intimate they seem. This is the closest to what I’d imagine realism with this sort of thing looks like, and i had trouble not turning away. When she can’t bear it any longer, Kenzie makes a run for it into the nearby town, hiding out and eventually befriending lone hiker Greenwood, who is healing from wounds of his own. Kenzie is confused and broken from what has happened, and the filmmakers know that when this befalls someone whose brain and soul are not developed enough to understand it, they act in strange ways. Purnell is heartbreaking and should have been in contending for some sort of award. Going from almost no film work to lighting up the film with this brave, staggering turn was something I was honored to see unfold on my humble iPad screen. Much of the story unfolds in the breathtaking Alaskan wilderness, the camera capturing misty mountains, verdant landscapes and little coves that ferries weave in and out of. You just have to contrast this type of subject matter with beauty of some kind, and Kenzie’s journey takes her from darkness into the possibility of light, surrounded by the natural world and the companionship of her new friend and protector. Most of the time it’s just the two of them out in the desolation, aside from when they meet a kindly group of campers, including Ann Dowd, an incredible actress who seems to be riding some sort of comeback these days. Films about this sort of thing range all across the board, from hamfisted pulp revenge, to tender and inquisitive documentation. This one respectfully shows you the kind of irresponsible, selfish and sick behaviour humans are capable of, particularly towards the ones they are supposed to love and protect. It also looks at kindness and compassion that can come from a complete stranger and shelter those who have been broken. There’s both light and dark in this world of ours, and Kenzie meets them both face to face. Purnell owns the film, and I think we will see great things from her. Couldn’t recommend this film, and her performance, enough. 

Captain Fantastic: A Review by Nate Hill 

Somewhere deep in the rugged mountainsides of the Pacific Northwest, a mother and father have chosen to raise their five children off the grid, away from society and by a completely different set of rules and customs than anyone in our day and age is used to. Viggo Mortensen doesn’t take on just any film, and in fact since his breakout role in Lord of The Rings which allowed him some clout, he’s done nothing but carefully thought out, worthwhile cinema, Captain Fantastic being probably one of the best. He is intense and caring as Ben, an intellectual renaissance man who has been bitterly put off of capitalism and commercialism. His wife (Trin Miller, angelic in flashbacks) is mentally ill and eventually passes away, leaving him on his own with the brood. He does what he knows best, sticking to the rigid physical and intellectual education plan in place for them. They learn to hunt wild game with homemade tools, read from classics like Lolita and Brothers Karamazov every evening, grow all their own grains and vegetation, practice complex defense, combat and survival skills, and live a life of elemental potency, far from the lemming’s march of consumerism just beyond their verdant and very isolated homeland. Trouble has a way of finding paradise though, however well it hides, and here it arrives in the simplest form of all: the absence of a mother. Things aren’t the same following her death, and they all take up arms and head south to New Mexico for her funeral, in a big old repurpoused school bus. They’re the most ecentric family you’ve ever met, and the ironic part is they’re the closest thing to what we were meant to live like in this world you’ll find. The real absurdity is the technicolor strip mall fast food fever dream we inhabit today, far removed from our earthy origins. It’s just because it’s become so commonplace that it seems normal to us. The family clashes spectacularly with an unprepared outside world who react to their behaviour in many different ways. The children all have the physique of a professional athlete and the academic abilities of six college professors, but somewhere along the way Ben forgot to teach them about what matters most: How to interact with one another, how to care for and love another human, and the simple social cues one aquires from growing up around a large number of people. His jaded father in law (knockout work from Frank Langella) sees Ben as a loose cannon, a danger to his grandchildren and the cause of his daughter’s death. At one point the film levels out and let’s us see things in a complete objective way: yes there are extreme benefits to a method of raising children like this, an experience that no one else could have and an implementation of their human potential that goes several degrees farther than usual. But how far is too far? Is there a dangerous element to their training and conditioning that goes beyond what they’re capable of and poses a threat? Mortensen is a picture of conflict, his undying love for his children tested when he’s thrown out of the comfort coccoon he has forged for them. Suddenly he is not the all knowing protector they’ve gotten used to, and the world outside is just as much a cause of fear for him as it is for them. They are a family though, which is achingly, evidently clear in each performance. George Mackay is the eldest and bears the brunt of realization when it comes time to meet other people. The others, including Annaliese Basso, Shree Crooks, Nicholas Hamilton and Samantha Isler are all sensational and have a lived in, well worn and often quite hilarious dynamic. It’s essentially a fish out of water story that begs us to question both the water and the land, and how going from one environment to the other, both worlds apart but in the same realm, can affect a human being. This is the best film I have seen so far this year, one that challenges us to ponder what we see unfold, urges us to be more than just another fish in the school, but to laugh, be crazy, think for ourselves and pitch in an effort to find the scattered pieces of the puzzle we call the human condition. Fantastic is the word indeed.