Monday, December 10, 2018



I don't mind arty horror. In fact, most of the Euro-horror I love so much eschews narrative for showy aesthetics; it’s one the aspects I find most appealing about that particular subgenre. I like David Cronenberg movies because they get under your skin and scare in a way that isn’t obvious. There are ways to do arty horror and still have your movie be, you know, scary. However, in the last decade or so there has been a handful of horror films whose filmmakers are hyper-focused on differentiating their it’s-not-horror-but-it’s-horror films via narrative. The aspirations of these films show a crop of filmmakers that would rather have their horror film seen as Important and Significant than scary/unnerving, as if their only take away from film school viewings of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD/DAWN OF THE DEAD was that George Romero was inserting social commentary into his horror films.

THE WITCH, THE BABADOOK, even aspects of IT FOLLOWS are just a few modern examples of the Significant horror film that I didn’t hate (THE WITCH, in fact, I liked quite a bit); however, Ari Aster’s very unscary and incredibly banal HEREDITARY with its awful soundtrack that is there to constantly remind you that everything you’re watching is Significant and Creepy is not one of those examples (for an example of the pervasive ambient soundtrack designed to unsettle the viewer that really works, see Rob Zombie’s THE LORDS OF SALEM, which also executes this whole type of Satanic Horror film narrative much better and is much more interesting to look at). I couldn't help but feel worn down by the film's glacial pacing and laughable attempts at overt horror. Scene by languid scene (man there are a lot of slow tracking shots that lead to nothing in this movie) the film trips over itself as it progresses into its more gonzo elements (there are insects on faces and coming out of mouths in this movie, but Fulci it is not). These moments should have elicited a fun, “What the fuck is happening!?”* response but instead each of these moments becomes a slog as over and over we get characters looking at something offscreen (or wandering towards something offscreen), a slow push in from the camera, a THUD THUD from the soundtrack, and lots of tracking shots that are supposed to signal ominous situations but end up being nothing more than tedious foreshadowing.

HEREDITARY works hard at being arty horror, but it also overplays its hand at the worst possible moments when it wants to try and convince the audience that it’s visceral horror. The film’s “shock” moments don’t land because the momentum of those scenes is always being cut short. There’s just way too much focus on plot and not enough attention paid to what makes a horror film fun and scary. For example, there is a cutaway to a severed head covered in ants that is a fine cutaway for a horror film—appropriately gruesome and shocking in concept—but is inserted at the worst possible moment for what the filmmakers I think are striving for that it made me laugh out loud when they cut to it. However, the moment that cutaway interrupts is a piece of overacting by Toni Collette that is so laughable that I didn't mind the awkward editing decision to interrupt that moment, but it seemed out of place for what the film is trying to be. It’s a moment that strains to say, "SEE THIS IS A HORROR MOVIE" because this feels like it was made by people that don't necessarily love horror movies.

I was trying with this one. I really was. A lot of critics I respect love this movie. There are elements of it that I really like (the set design, the sound mixing near the end where despite how ridiculous the clucking noise is as a device, that noise and the sound of the pencil hitting the paper actually startled me as it was isolated on my good-not-great rear speakers), but the overbearing soundtrack and the over-the-top acting and the lack of understanding what makes a horror film scary got on my nerves.

* As I watched the film, I thought, “huh, I think this is a film trying to say something about trauma and moving on and the (literal) ghosts that haunt us, etc.”, but unless I totally misread the film's final 20 minutes, I think the film’s final 20 minutes undercuts that interpretation. Which is too bad because had HEREDITARY been more along the lines of something like Mario Bava’s underappreciated SHOCK with its equally over-the-top performance from Daria Nicolodi (and the equally gonzo things that happen to her in that movie), I could have been on board with it. SHOCK does the kind of “protagonist trying to keep their shit together” ghost story better than most, and I thought that's where HEREDITARY was heading before the banal Satanism angle took over. Anyway, this is all to say people really should see SHOCK


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