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dir-scr Ari Aster
prd Kevin Scott Frakes, Lars Knudsen
with Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Gabriel Byrne, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd, Mallory Bechtel, Brock McKinney, Jake Brown, Jarrod Phillips, Heidi Mendez, Lorenzo Silva, Zachary Arthur
release US 8.Jun.18, UK 15.Jun.18
18/US A24 2h07
SUNDANCE FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E|
Writer-director Ari Aster makes his feature debut with a boldly original premise that builds involving character drama as it thoroughly freaks out the audience. The horror climax may be somewhat hysterical, but the journey there features first-rate acting from the entire cast, plus skilfully controlled filmmaking to create a terrifying experience that's both darkly emotional and delightfully bonkers.
Having just buried her estranged mother, Annie (Collette) isn't as relieved as she thinks she should be, so she secretly seeks a grief counselling group. Her husband Steve (Byrne) is patiently supportive, but their quirky 13-year-old daughter Charlie (Shapiro) seems deeply troubled. Meanwhile, their older son Peter (Wolff) is just trying to get on with being a teen. But something isn't right, and after tragedy strikes, Annie turns to new friend Joan (Dowd), who teaches her how to commune with the dead. And this only seems to open a can of worms.
Aster's confident directing style echoes Kubrick in its grandly pristine camerawork, often oppressive score and performances that seem to gurgle up from the actors' stomachs. This makes everything feel viscerally stirring, even before anything very scary actually happens on-screen: we know deep down that something very wicked this way comes. In a sense, this also leads to a bit of disappointment when the gonzo mayhem is fully unleashed. But it's done in an impressive way that is powerfully unsettling, more for the emotional edge than the ghoulish grisliness.
Collette and Wolff have the centrepiece roles, and both are simply jaw-dropping. Watching the sheer terror creep across their faces is made much more intense by what we know about these people, as details of their years of disconnection are peppered throughout the narrative. So their wrenching explosions of pain and fear hit us hard. Byrne and Shapiro are also superb in their singular roles, while Dowd once again relishes a slightly enigmatic character who has unexpected layers.
The first two-thirds of this movie are a masterclass in writing, direction and acting, beautifully pulling the audience into a family on the brink of collapse, as each person grapples with grief in his or her own way, inadvertently putting more distance between loved ones. So when the story tips over into a pure, unabashed nightmare, the stakes feel unusually high for this kind of movie. To emphasise the characters' internal journeys, Aster thankfully resists over-explaining the mythology. But the final destination, as it were, still feels a bit nutty.
|R E A D E R R E V I E W S|
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© 2018 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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