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Hereditary

Hereditary

According to Tolstoy, happy families are all alike;
every doomed family however is doomed in its own way

dir: Ari Aster

2018

That. Was. Utterly. Horrifying.

Since I sat through / endured Midsommar, and thought it was a crafty little flick, I thought I’d go back and check out Ari Aster’s first flick Hereditary, which I’d heard a lot about but declined to watch, figuring nothing good would come of it. But since I tricked myself into watching something as out there as Midsommar, by telling myself it was a documentary about the Midsummer festival Melbourne’s been having since the 1990s to celebrate our LGBTIQ brothers, sisters and non-binary identifying everythings in between, I tricked myself into watching Hereditary by telling myself it was a documentary about DNA and hereditable traits, you know, phylogenetic and epigenetic expression to the max!!!

Imagine my surprise when this turned out to be two of the most terrifying hours I’ve spent watching Toni Collette react to stuff.

I’ve read a few reviews since watching the flick, and I have to say I saw a movie very different from the one many of the detractors saw. What they saw was a weird flick that doesn’t make any sense and is very slow, and doesn’t have enough gore or jump scares or something.

What I saw was a horrifying story about a doomed family. The thing about doom is, it is inescapable, and generally to make you commit to watching something to the end, you have to at least be made to care about the people involved. That’s not where this is coming from. The Graham family doesn’t earn our sympathy or our compassion, but at least every few minutes I was alternating between “Oh my god, poor Charlie” to “ohmygod poor Peter” to “ohmygod poor everyone”.

When Hereditary begins, a family prepares to bury an unloved matriarch. During the eulogy, the deceased’s daughter Annie (Toni Collette) delivers a eulogy that, on one level, could have more succinctly be put as “Fuck you, mom, burn in hell” but which instead tries to ground us in the disturbed reality of what Annie comes from: a family where severe mental illness has destroyed almost everyone. Severe dissociative disorders, severe psychosis, hell for the people with it, hell for the people around them. We are sure Annie is not sad to see her go, but when she relates how she lost her own sibling and her father, you might think now she and her ‘normal’ family can grieve, take some time, and eventually grow closer.

But this flick is called Hereditary

Which means the problems of previous generations are carried through to the next, and the next, and the next.

Rating:

Midsommar

Midsommar

I guess my allergies must be acting up something fierce

dir: Ari Aster

2019

This is some fucked up shit.

Midsommar is a deeply creepy flick, that is very long (I watched a director’s cut which adds like another half hour, making it nearly three hours long), but is not without its merits.

The main merit it possesses is Florence Pugh, who seems to be getting all the acting work these days (she was great in Lady Macbeth and the Little Drummer Girl mini series, and will star in the new Black Widow movie), and is just phenomenal even in something as disturbing as this. And it’s not an easy role, at all. You can just say this flick is a horror flick, and assume it requires someone being terrorised for a time before rising up and killing their tormentors or escaping to leave the tormentors to keep tormenting them in the sequel, but that’s not the kind of horror on display here.

This is a deeply weird flick, but it’s the kind of weird that I can get behind. I can’t say that I am that much of a horror flick fan now as in the past, but it certainly is transporting to see something a bit different (even if it isn’t entirely unfamiliar).

The place where it starts is a deeply, viscerally horrible place. Dani (Florence Pugh) is a college student, with a boyfriend called Christian (jack Reynor) who’s an anthropology graduate student. Her sister, who we never meet, has decided to kill herself, but even worse, to take her parents with her. But Dani doesn’t know all of this at first, and is reacting to a worrying text from her sister, and is more concerned about alienating her boyfriend by being too clingy or too needy.

When it cuts to the boyfriend, he’s chatting with his mates about how he’s planning on giving her the flick. The mates don’t seem to care, but they also seem to think he’s put up with enough as it is.

It is probably a kind of callous conversation that has been had by millions of people in their late teens early twenties since at least the dawn of human time, though it’s possible even our less evolved ancestors took a similar version of that chat for a spin back when the latest gadget was a sharp rock.

Rating:

Us

Us

This phenomenal poster is more disturbing than
anything in the film. Plus, where did they get all
the fingerless gloves from?

dir: Jordan Peele

2019

That was…something.

The shadow self, the dark Jungian version of our unexpressed ourselves that might have up until now lurked in the depths of our consciousness; right now, for plot reasons, comes to the fore, scissors in hand, ready to take our place.

I… am not going to pretend that I actually completely understood either the text, the subtext, the literal meaning of stuff or the allegorical meaning of what actually transpires in this horror film that starts off looking like a family under siege in their own home kind of story, and becomes something very much more complicated.

It starts in the 80s, as a young girl called Adelaide watches an ad for Hands Across America, an effort that came after the whole We Are The World fiasco to raise money for charities including homelessness. Also maybe to prove that Americans could stand up and hold hands, doing two things simultaneously. In retrospect it seems bizarre that anyone would do such a thing, but when I looked up that it raised probably around $100 million, but only about $15 million went to actual charities, it makes perfect sense.

Although, let’s be honest about this, after that, there was no homelessness or poverty in America or anywhere else for that matter, ever again, so it was all obviously worth it.

Adelaide watches this bizarre ad on the telly, and then it cuts to her and her parents going down to the Santa Cruz boardwalk, to celebrate her birthday with candied apples and games of chance, as her parents bicker. She observes her parents from behind, but observes all the people around her, including a strange chap holding a sign that says Jeremiah 11:11. This number and this wordless character keeps cropping up throughout the flick. I had to look it up, because I’m a godless heathen, and it talks about the Lord God visiting evil upon a bunch of people for no good reason.

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Get Out

Get Out

Don't shoot until you see the whites *in* their eyes

dir: Jordan Peele

2017

This has been a long time coming.

In 1983 (I first watched it in 1984 at age 12, probably way too young) Eddie Murphy was known not as the guy starring in movies as most of the characters wearing fat suits and farting all the time, but as probably the biggest stand up comedian in the world. And, this in itself is pretty amazing, he was 22 at the time when Delirious was recorded.

Some of the material is ageless, some of it has aged horribly (especially to do with LGBTIQ issues and terrible AIDS jokes), but generally it holds up. What is it about African-American comedians and terrible jokes about gay, lesbian and trans people, amiright? Wait, don’t walk away, I’m sorry about the racist generalisations, sorry!

Setting all of that aside, I remember very clearly that towards the end of the concert movie, Murphy points out one of the many differences between “white” people and “black” people, at least as it relates to horror movies. In horror movies, a white family moves into a haunted house ignoring all the obvious signs that something terrible is going to happen, because, I dunno, gentrification or something.

Murphy’s counterpoint was, and the punchline / capper to his whole show, was that a black family that walked into a beautiful house, listed all the great attributes of the place and the neighbourhood, but heard a ghostly voice clearly say “Get Out!” would instantly say “Too bad we can’t stay” and immediately get the fuck out of there.

Thank you and good night! I’m here all week, try the veal etc etc. Look, I can’t argue that it’s still as funny, or that it’s funny out of context, but since it’s stayed with me all these years, it clearly made an impression upon me. The moment I heard there was a film made by African-American comedian and that it was called Get Out, the first thing I thought of was the classic Eddie Murphy joke.

So too, since there was a racial edge to that previous joke, did I assume that it would be a horror flick that had something to say about White America versus Black America, and, good goddamn, was that accurate.

Get Out doesn’t have a set up whereby blacks are forced back into slavery, or are hunted down by the Klan or the Secret Service or anything. It’s at the same time a more insidious and more horrifying / daft proposal. The racism isn’t the worst element, but it’s the enabling element that lets the rest of the story cascade along.

A guy goes to his girlfriend’s parent’s place in order to meet them for the first time. It’s the perfect set up for a Look Who’s Coming to Dinner type of scenario, but the girl reassures her boyfriend that her affluent, professional, liberal parents will love him too. Just like in Look Who’s Coming to Dinner.

He, being Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) thinks this is a disaster in the making. She, being Rose (Allison Williams, playing a slightly less horrible version of her Marnie character on Girls), hasn’t warned her parents that she’s dating an African-American chap. Chris might be expecting some hostility, some tension. This is a nation that elected a white supremacist president just after the first African-American president for revenge, after all.

Rating:

The Witch

The Witch

I never really enjoyed eating goat, have to be honest, and that's not
going to change any time soon, okay Satan?

dir: Robert Eggers

2016

I fell like I should be calling this ‘The VVitch’ instead, because that’s what it said on all the posters, which I couldn’t work out. Then the lightbulb I keep in a tinfoil hat on my head went bright, and I realised, a few minutes in, that the ‘V V’ is because this movie is set in the time of the Puritan Pilgrims of the 1600s, who were fleeing persecution / going somewhere new in order to dole out more persecution to each other.

It was the time before Ws, when V V stood for Double U. And when they used f in place of s. And everyone was cool with slavery, and Native Americans didn’t have souls so could be killed with impunity. Good times.

Confusing, frightening times. A time of great terror in the face of the unknown in the New World, a place where Puritans thought they were going to come to create a stoic, humourless, sexless Paradise on Earth, and instead they found the place just like everywhere else, just with better views and more squalor.

As this deeply unsettling film starts, a man with a thick Yorkshire accent, and his family, are being expelled from a Puritan plantation, because the lead chap’s religious views slightly contradict the party line of the other Puritans. Or it could be a conflict over those goofy hats with the buckles on them: he’s against them, they’re for them.

Rating:

The Lights

The Lights

So, when was the last time you ever heard someone saying that
going into the lights would be a good idea? Everyone knows by
now not to go into the lights. And yet...

dir: Christopher Krupka

2015

It’s amazing what you can do with no budget, a bunch of people, a couple of cheap cameras and some terrifying sound design.

The Lights is an Australian horror flick that is unpolished, messy and very clunky in some ways, and it’s definitely an exponent of the found footage horror genre, which are a sequence of words alone that could make people flee to the hills, but in some quite powerful ways it succeeds in what it sets out to do.

There’s no doubt that it could have benefited from some more money, maybe a little more time on the script. But there is no doubting that even if The Lights uses a bunch of familiar elements in familiar ways, it still manages to do exactly what it sets out to do: unsettle, confuse and terrify.

A lot of horror flicks use the found footage conceit, yet the way it’s used in The Lights is somewhat confusing. Someone, someone who we hear ask questions of some of the participants / survivors, is filming whatever’s going on (with a few scenes of other footage thrown in from phones and other cameras as well) giving it the feel of a ramshackle documentary spliced with found footage. But whoever the unseen person filming is, despite the fact that we know it’s not one of the main four characters, there’s no real explanation as to who they are and why they’re filming.

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The Babadook

The Babadook

This is what happens when you don't give your screaming brats the
lavish birthday parties they demand: Do so at your own deadly risk

dir: Jennifer Kent

2014

So much horror is linked to motherhood, or being a parent. It’s a visceral, fundamental connection. The Babadook is by no means a completely original horror flick, but it is a good one that bathes in, wallows in this terror of the monstrously maternal.

Maybe the roots of the idea are a fear of motherhood, but they could also be a terror of what the possibilities are when you are bringing a life into this horrible, beautiful world. That fear could be as universal as any of the fears represented in flicks as diverse as Rosemary’s Baby, Alien, The Ring, Dark Water through to We Need to Talk About Kevin.

In this harrowing flick – make no mistake, this is an exhausting and harrowing, uncomfortably intimate flick - the monster keeps changing places. As the film begins, we could quite rightly think that the monster is the one the main character has given birth to.

The opening scene has a woman (Essie Davis) being driven to a hospital as she seems to be in the initial stages of childbirth. As if going into labour isn’t painful enough, the unknown voice promising her that they’re only 10 minutes away from the hospital also manages to get them into a horrific car accident.

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World War Z

World War Z

The queues for Luna Park rides are getting worse and worse

dir: Marc Forster

I wonder if there is anyone on the planet not sick of zombies as yet.

We, and I’m speaking on behalf of all of cinema-going humanity here, are even more sick of zombies than we are of vampires. I am so sick of vampires and zombies that I generally avoid new movies with them even if people I really like are in them, and I hear that they’re good films. I’m sick of them all, and I can’t be summoning the energy and time to watch them and review them, I just can't do it.

Except for this one. Come on, I was curious.

I have read the book this is based on (another reason for my undead care-factor fatigue), but the film has about as much to do with the book as any other flick about zombies has to do with the book: they’ve both got zombies in them, and that’s about it.

Out of the dry reportage of the novel comes a story with an allegedly relatable hero (Brad Pitt, as if any mere mortal men can relate to him) and a story at a scale we can grasp despite it being about a global epidemic of flesh-chomping. It’s the right approach, I guess. They also have to make it even more relatable by making the main guy motivated to find a solution to the zombie apocalypse by his having a redheaded wife and redheaded children: so if he doesn’t find a ‘cure’ or whatever, not only will everyone die, but some redheads too!

Rating:

V/H/S

V/H/S

I'm more terrified by all the money I wasted on all those tapes
than anything in this flick

dirs: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, David Bruckner, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, Chad Villella, Ti West, Adam Wingard

Blah. Terrible. An anthology of horror flicks as horrible as the media storage format they replaced.

There is something creepy about video footage, yes, granted. None of that, none of it improves any of the flicks or the framing device used to situate these short, mostly pointless flicks. The graininess of the footage doesn’t add to the atmosphere at all, it doesn’t improve the terrible framing device, and it also doesn’t make that much sense, honestly.

As this ‘movie’ starts, a bunch of creepy frat boy criminal types commit various crimes and film themselves as they’re committing them. They’re real scumbags, which, in the context of the horror genre, is not a bad thing, because we know that they’ll get theirs in hell, so to speak. These shitbirds are hired by someone to break into a house and steal a video tape, in order to give context and meaning to their constant filming of everything they do.

When they get into the house and start creeping around, they find an old guy dead in front of a bunch of televisions, and stacks of tapes around the house. One moron at a time pops a tape into the VCR and starts watching.

Rating:

Chernobyl Diaries

Chernobyl Diaries

Please do not feed the mutants with your fellow travellers

dir: Bradley Parker

What a waste.

It’s one thing to make a flick set around Chernobyl, yes, THAT Chernobyl, being the site of the worst nuclear accident (publicly known) to occur thus far. Let’s just ignore the one that happened at Fukushima just recently, I guess, at least until the Japanese start making monster movies about it.

It’s another thing entirely to film such a film in the actual location you’re setting it in. I mean, that just blows my mind. That’s a great idea. Even allowing for the greatness of the idea, I can see that, necessarily, there are only two kinds of films you could set at such a location: documentary or horror movie. Comedy, well, not even Adam Sandler or Roberto Benigni would be able to get away with it. Romance, hm? Love in the Time of Lethal Radiation?

I am somewhat obsessed with the place. Perversely, the best realisation of something set there thus far have been the Ukrainian-produced S.T.A.L.K.E.R games, which used the location very effectively, but I’m not pretending it did so in a deep or meaningful way. It’s an excuse for some very creepy, very effective first person shooters where you get to blow away a whole bunch of horrifying (but poorly animated) mutants, tracksuit-wearing hoods and some very hardcore mercenaries, on your way either to death, escape, or a basket of puppies wearing cute scarves.

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