Let me be the first to admit this: I saw the film four times. Yes, count them, four times. After watching it the first time, I felt very strongly I should watch it again with different people to see how they feel about it.
My mother was stoic, my cousin hated it, my aunt was covering her face for the most part, and my uncle, Mike Doria found the movie “interesting.” I had then pressed him if the movie was good. He gave it a solid two thumbs up while we discussed the movie at length over cigarettes on a rainy night in Glorietta IV.
“Interesting” is by no means an uninspired nor an uncreative way to describe the film. This directorial debut from Ari Aster is a meditation on mental instability and private loss, neatly wrapped in a bow of malevolent undertones.
It achieves the goal to unsettle viewers by violence of the mind. No gratuitous gory scenes, no cheap jump scares. Instead, the movie burns slowly, turning the audience into proverbial frogs in a pot of water that’s being brought to a boil.
The Graham Family consists of Steve (Gabriel Byrne) a therapist with a solid and stolid presence, Annie (Toni Collette) a miniature artist who recreates (in great detail) certain events of her life with such obsessive concentration, ostensibly for a kind of control she struggles to have in real life, and their two children, high school pothead Peter (Alex Wolff) and Charlie (Milly Shapiro) whose crippling shyness is bordering on being socially stunted.
The Graham family’s lives were disrupted following the death of Annie’s mother at the start of the film. As Annie eulogizes the fallen matriarch, foreshadowing the difficult relationship they shared. Charlie seems to be the one hit hardest by the loss, going as far as asking her mother who will look after her when she dies. Note the word used was “when” and not “if”.
The Graham family, most notably Annie, struggles with yet another family tragedy that struck them shortly after the death of her mother and that’s when things go horribly wrong.
As the movie progresses, the film’s atmosphere is rife with unsettling and foreboding grief with a sense of lingering malevolence that eventually reveals itself towards the end. It is worth noting that Pawel Pogorzelski did an amazing job as a cinematographer setting the tone for this horror masterpiece while Colin Stetson’s musical score is sure to inspire nightmares from viewers.
To further disorient the audience, the film ends with Judy Collins’ rendition of “Both Sides Now” that had me WTF-ing as we sat there shortly before leaving the cinemas. A nice touch of irony, perhaps? No matter. It was effective as far as mindf–king was concerned.
Toni Collette gives a performance of a lifetime. A Tour de Force. I would even say Oscar worthy and a lot will agree. A character so emotionally raw, it’s as if she’s being flayed before your very eyes. She let’s out wails so horrifyingly and heart-wrenchingly primal, you can feel your chest tightening. Her eyes convey exasperation, desperation, and sheer terror and bewilderment. The movie raises (if not sets) the bar on emotional agony. I don’t think I’ve seen a mother more anguished than Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) in The Exorcist.
Overall, I give this movie a 4.5 out of five stars. A horror film exquisitely executed that will linger in your mind for months to come.