Written and Directed by Ari Aster
After the death of Annie Graham’s (Toni Collette) mother and the accidental death of her daughter, strange things begin to happen, and old family stresses are aggravated. After she calls back her daughter’s spirit during a séance, things take a dark turn and she may have opened a door to something very evil.
This movie will leave you uneasy by the atmosphere and the general tone. There is plenty of jarring imagery throughout. Not everything horror needs to have you screaming or jumping. Even so you will scream and jump during the scene where the young daughter dies. You don’t see it coming at all (at least how it happens) and it’s one of the freakier things I’ve seen in a movie in quite some time. I screamed “What the H**l?!” I thought the neighbors heard me I was that loud.
The supernatural events-at least in the beginning-can be chalked up to moments of extreme grief and they don’t become overtly unexplainable until later in the film. That helps to build the tension and the suspense and the feeling of fear that this movie gives you.
What really hits you the most is the breakdown of the family because of the tragedy. It’s emotionally difficult to watch. The writer/director Ari Aster gets how a family works and applies that here. That may sound obvious to some, but it seems too often directors and writers are clueless about sibling relationships or those of parents and children and so on. The familial interactions here are authentic.
One thing that bothers me is that nobody in the movie looks to be related to each other. I understand actors are not biologically related, but I would think that you would cast children that could pass as children of the adults but here they didn’t. I didn’t buy the son Peter (Alex Wolff) and daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) as being the children of either Steve Graham (Gabriel Byrne) or Annie Graham (Toni Collette). Annie Graham? Anagram? Maybe I’m just overthinking that.
Even though the story overall is well crafted, some of the connections that are supposed to be surprising hit you over the head like a giant whiffle bat. The most egregious is when Annie meets Joan (Ann Dowd) outside the support group and goes over to her house. If you don’t see the connection between Annie’s dead mother and Joan, you are blind and deaf. The doormat alone should have told you something weird was going on. Annie should have called Joan out before ever stepping into the apartment.
I am also bothered that Annie never went through her mother‘s belongings after she died. I’m not expecting her to start rummaging through the box the day she was buried but at some point after the funeral and prior to the climax I would’ve expected her to dig deeper than one book. A photo album is a standard go to item after the death of someone, but Annie ignored it until they needed an easy reveal on what was all going on.
The story is good though. It slowly builds over time and pulls you in. I’m generally not a fan of decaying family storylines because they usually play out the same heavy-handed way no matter the genre. Here the dynamics feel natural and the decisions and reactions of the characters don’t come off as contrived. And this is accomplished because the story is told so smoothly.
Weird endings can be hit or miss. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they don’t. Here it works very well. What looked like a straightforward ending quickly went off the rails in a good way. It just got weirder and more insane as in progressed and its pace was frenetic. By the end you are asking yourself what exactly you had just watched. What happens in the culmination in the treehouse is just bizarre and ever so awesome.
This is a pretty good horror movie that has a solid plan from beginning to end and good acting all around. The script is great and there is never a dull moment in the movie. It is like few out there and it will eventually be considered a classic.