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Review: Hereditary

Written and Directed by Ari Aster, “Hereditary” is the latest horror movie from studio A24. This most recent offering continues A24’s tradition of releasing films that refuse to be average, which results in a storytelling boon for their audiences. “Hereditary” follows the lives of the Graham family as they navigate the loss of their Matriarch, Ellen. The film opens with her funeral as her daughter Annie (Toni Colette) gives a muted eulogy which perfectly preps us (but does not prepare us) with a foundation of paranoia. Ellen, it seems, was a very private person with private friends. So much so that her closest relatives know almost nothing about her life and its many secrets. The family dysfunction that stems outward from Ellen has produced a multitude of psychological and emotional issues in her offspring. Most notably affected by this is Annie, a miniature model creator, wife, and mother, who seems to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown- or at least close to one- right from the beginning of the film. Her husband Steve Graham (Gabriel Byrne) just tries to keep everything and everyone around him afloat amidst the cavalcade of creeps that’s about to descend into his family’s life. They have two children Peter (Alex Wolff), the older teenager, and Charlie (Milly Shapiro), the very unsettling young girl who makes those creepy clicking sounds that you’ve heard in the advertising of the film.

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I will do my best to avoid spoilers in this review, or at least keep them to a minimum. There are essentially two sides to this film. There’s the story you think you’re watching for the first half of the film, and then there’s the second story that you won’t likely fully grasp the details of until the film very deliberately tells you what’s happening in the final shot of the film. In retrospect, there’s a very well thought out string of breadcrumbs sprinkled throughout the film that do hint at the supernatural underpinnings that are taking place just out of frame. There’s a lot going on in the film, there’s throwbacks to classic horror cinema from the mood and tension building of “The Shining” to the wild shock and awe of certain scenes from “The Exorcist”. Granted, I wouldn’t recommend going into any movie with your expectations rampant and out of control- the film simply cleverly pulls from those icons while greatly remaining as its own unique experimentation.

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The greatest thing the film accomplishes is its’ execution of tension and unsettling mystery. There’s one, maybe two, jump-scares in the entire film and that is a huge benefit. There is no release here, once the film has entrapped you, it has your undivided attention. There are words scrawled on the walls of the Grahams’ house, only ever seen by Annie who seems to become more and more untrustworthy and unraveled as the film progresses- which makes us question if she’s actually even seeing them. Not to mention Charlie, who is unquestionably disturbing in nearly every scene she’s in- and even in a few she’s not. Charlie has visions of her dead grandmother, cuts off a dead bird’s head for unknown reasons (a prelude to all the beheadings later in the film- there’s more than you would expect from this film’s pretenses), and she exponentially keeps making that freaky clicking sound that I keep thinking I hear when it’s too quiet around the house. Curiously Peter isn’t all that focused on in the first half of the story, until about the mid point when THAT SCENE happens and it affects Peter so much that he begins to slowly lose his mind. Then there’s these visual clues, symbols, and red herrings all over the film- everything that happens or is shown seems to have a reason and action behind it, but it does help to keep the audience out of the conversation and thereby cleverly distracting us to keep the intrigue high. It keeps building this ever creepy crescendo of madness until it reaches the boiling point.

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Everything about “Hereditary” was crafted with horror loving hands. The score is effectively distressing and alarming when it needs to be, the way the film is edited is pure unease, and the progression of the characters is downright unnerving. There’s so much more I could discuss, but by doing so I would ruin the fun of the mystery. I highly suggest seeing this film if you enjoy good horror films. I don’t even really care all that much for the genre, but this film got to me. It still wanders into my mind days later and turns lovely afternoons into insidious hours of peeking around corners and occasionally getting scared by the cat.

Final Score: a Dozen creepy cult members

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Review: A Quiet Place

Written by Bryan Woods, Scott Beck, and John Krasinski and directed by Krasinski, “A Quiet Place” is an intelligent and intimate thriller that expertly showcases Krasinski’s skill behind the camera as well as in front of it. This is Krasinski’s third time in the director’s chair when it comes to features, his first two, “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men” and “The Hollars” were both comedies with drama sprinkled in, though he also directed a few episodes of The Office. None of which suggest the talent and brilliance laying dormant within Krasinski for his third time at bat in “A Quiet Place”. I didn’t know what I was about to witness after buying my tickets to this particular showing, I had a night off from work so I looked at the showings and randomly happened upon the monster movie- some word of mouth around the internet from critics I trust seemed to suggest it would be a good time at the theater, and they weren’t wrong in the slightest. In the opening scene we’re introduced to the family Abbott in an abandoned grocery store. The parents (Krasinski and Emily Blunt) and three children all seem tense, barely making a sound as they carefully scatter about on the balls of their feet looking for supplies. They use sign language to communicate between others and through some clever use of sound editing we notice that one of the children (Millicent Simmonds) must be deaf. As they leave the store newspapers flutter in the wind as you can see the headlines read in bold letters, “IT’S SOUND!” consuming the page. I won’t divulge into details that one might consider spoiler territory, but it’s quickly established that any noise above a muted whisper is met with brutal violence from the monsters lurking just beyond sight.

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This film is a masterclass in efficiently showing you everything you need to know about every member of the family and how they all interact with each other through this world changing scenario. Since there is almost no spoken dialogue in the film and few signed lines, we’re inclined to study each character’s face and body movements more than a film might normally require of its audience. The film’s world and sense of danger are exquisitely portrayed in the first half of the movie. We’re introduced to the threat outside and how very real it is, we see how they survive through careful planning and awareness of their surroundings, and we see them trying to live a normal life amidst this ever present terror. At the beginning of being seated in my theater, I was worried that the crowd might be too noisy for this film. The audience was laughing and chatting, eating and coughing all throughout the trailers- but as soon as the opening scene captured everyone’s attention with rapt bated breath, I knew I was in for a treat. This is a film where precise sound design is key, it was utilized with such perfection in order to ratchet up the suspense as much as possible at any given moment that it seemed almost cruel in it’s execution, it was almost too good!

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What I loved most about the film was that, much like “Jaws”, the focus wasn’t on the unseen threat awaiting our characters, it was on the people at risk themselves. The monsters, or aliens, or whatever they were (it’s really unimportant as to what exactly they are) weren’t overused, though they do show themselves eventually, the simple fact that they were nearby created an unsettling atmosphere that was prevalent throughout the film’s runtime. The second half of the film is almost entirely steeped in suspense. Krasinski pulls from masters like Hitchcock here in that once things start to go off the rails for the family Abbott- there’s always another problem that exponentially increases anxiety and tension. He never lets the audience go once he’s got you, splitting up the various family members for one reason or another comes with a lot of variables and everything that can go wrong does!

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After this film, I know I’ll be paying attention to whatever projects Krasinski’s working on, because this shows great potential. “A Quiet Place” is a classic thriller that’s incredibly clever on several fronts and I imagine it will be a favorite among audiences from here on out! This film may be the evolution of a master at work, only time will tell!

Final Score: a million unsaid things and several screams!

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Review: Grabbers

Written by Kevin Lehane and directed by Jon Wright, “Grabbers” is an Irish horror comedy about a small Irish Isle besieged by tentacled aliens that harbor a thirst for blood. I didn’t watch this film with the aim to write a review about it, but I enjoyed it so much that I thought it would be good to spread this title around and get more eyeballs on it. The premise of the film is simple enough, the small island has a police force of two and when the captain goes on holiday for two weeks a rookie from Dublin signs up to fill his shoes for the duration of his vacation while the second in command, Ciarán O’Shea (Richard Coyle), is a washed up  drunk who doesn’t take kindly to the newcomer. Lisa Nolan (Ruth Bradley) is the workaholic to O’Shea’s alcoholic and they awkwardly go about their duties once she’s settled on the isle. They quickly come across a bunch of beached whales with strange deep cuts all over them, the local scientist Smith (Russell Tovey) notes that they died at sea, curiously.

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One of the local fishermen, Paddy (Lalor Roddy) traps one of the strange creatures while out on a trawling run and brags about it to O’Shea while at the pub. One thing leads to another and the odd couple police force brings the captured squid-like creature to the local doctor (Pascal Scott) to find out what it might be, but even he has no idea forcing a return to Smith’s laboratory where they discover the creature’s weakness despite its unknown origin. Alcohol. Since the creatures need water and blood to thrive a victim with a high enough blood alcohol concentration causes the aliens to foam at the beak and writhe to death. With a particularly nasty storm coming making evacuation off the island impossible til the morning the ragtag group assembles the island residents to the pub to last through the night.

 

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The film gleefully embraces the cliches of its setting and the genre mashup tropes of Irish drunkenness, small town life, and the briny fishermen known to own their rebellious spirits while enjoying a pint or two more than is recommended. The film may be somewhat predictable but the actors leading the charge are effectively charming enough that I personally was having enough of a good time that this was less of an issue for me. The CGI for the creatures was effective in that they never seemed too goofy looking and once they start to grow, they’re malice enlarges with them. If you enjoy a good horror comedy, I suggest seeking this one out, it playfully acknowledges itself and the common tropes of similar movies, but it’s unique enough to stand out from the crowd.

 

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Final Score: Two cops, a scientist, a doctor, and a pub

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Movie-Pitch: Adaption of “Ex-Heroes”

*Just a quick note, I’m dropping the “Monday” portion of these Movie-Pitch posts because, well to be fairly honest, sometimes I miss the Mondays, and I’d like to entertain the idea of quality movie pitches, and that doesn’t always happen on a clean schedule. I will continue to post as often as possible though, so thanks for reading, and enjoy!*

Do you like vicious blood spilling Zombies? How about bombastic super heroics? Then I have quite the Movie Pitch for you today. FULL DISCLAIMER though, I have not read the book I’m about to pitch to you reader, but the premise alone seems like an enjoyable romp. In 2010 Peter Clines authored a book called “Ex-Heroes” a zombie apocalypse tale set in a world inhabited by superheroes. After looking into the story of the book I found that it essentially reads like a summer blockbuster produced by JJ Abrams, not a bad thing, but only if he had the skills and urges of a seventeen year old. It seems that there is an adventure/horror tale in here that could be an excellent film adaption, it just needs the right talent behind it.

This is precisely why I think Alex Garland should helm this piece if its ever greenlit. Garland wrote the screenplay for “28 days later”, produced the new “Dredd” film, worked on the screenplay for Neill Blomkamp’s “Halo” movie when that was happening, and he wrote and directed this year’s excellent sci-fi film “Ex-Machina”. Obviously he knows good storytelling in a genre specific world. It seems the book might have missed some opportunities to tell a more nuanced story involving the human experience in all of this, which is understandable, with so much pop and excess being tossed around that’s a lot to juggle, especially without throwing in any existential dilemmas.

The characters need some work as well, if dozens upon dozens of reader reviews are worth their salt. They’re essentially all common caricatures of superhero lore. The boy scout, the elusive sex symbol, the anti-hero bad boy, the every-man teenager that developed powers, a lot of expected swaths of the superhero world. That is part of the allure though, putting these well known archetypes into a horror infused zombie setting is compelling, they just need fleshing out. Apparently there’s quite the lack of diversity as well, not only in the heroes, but in the characterization of other races. One threat that the heroes have to deal with is an all Hispanic L.A.gang that wants the weapons and ammunition that the heroes have stockpiled. I’m just saying, you can’t have the only representation of these heroes be all white and only have the threatening characters, and the situations they create, be purely people of color. That’s just bad juju and totally unrealistic too. Even blockbusters should work to reflect the world we all live in.

The book is told in past and present sections unfolding how everything came to be, which could work in film. Slicing the timeline like this is, in my opinion, a great story tool for this particular situation as it gives a bit of mystery to the whole question of “Wait, how did this happen?” This also allows for retconning characters backstories if need be. As I have not read the book yet, and I intend to eventually, I don’t have any specific casting choices, I have actors I’d like to see in this sort of movie, but I also don’t want to simply throw big name talent at the wall to see if anything sticks a la “Fantastic Four” either. (Forgive me because I am about to throw big name talent at the wall and see if anything sticks) The names Daniel Radcliffe, Elijah Wood, Brad Pitt, Anthony Mackie, Michael B. Jordan (I know, I know, FF and all, but he’s a damn good actor), Joseph Gordon-levitt, and Oscar Issac, come to mind. All could be fine choices, but I need to take the time to really know the source material first. There’s also the women involved as well. Kate Winslet, Keira Knightley, Famke Janssen, Charlize Theron, maybe even Emma Watson, or Emilia clarke too. I know, I’m not really focusing in or narrowing down on the performances, but I do believe there’s a world where these actresses, and previously mentioned actors, improve the quality of this story and elevate it above the state of the content to create a supremely fun genre piece. As long as there is an overall point to be made with this story, I think it has the potential to be something more than the promise of the premise alone. And that might be worth the effort.

That’s my movie pitch for this week! Thanks for reading!