Film Review: US

Wonderful example of the Horror genre at its best

Jordan Peele’s follow up to 2017’sGet Out is a funny, creepy and very smart high-concept horror/thriller. It’s the kind of horror film that plays fully within the genre yet finds something broader to say, using the idea of symmetry and mimics to talk about underclasses and the secret machinery behind the world that we know and understand. I loved it for its refreshing characters and situation and the aplomb of its execution.

Lupita Nyong’o stars as the mother of a wealthy nuclear family who are on vacation to a cabin in Santa Cruz. One night they come under siege by a group of mimics, each one an identical copy of a family member. They move in creepy, inhuman ways and mean to kill our protagonists and to say anything more would be to ruin some delightful surprises.

The writing is very good, with a nice amount of time spent getting to know the family so that you are invested and care when things begin to go badly. The film plays squarely to its genre boundaries and conventions but in refreshing ways that give new life to old concepts, and I love that kind of genre-exceptionalism. Everything is carefully structured and laid out with a lot of emphasis on symmetry and doubling, and it has the wonderful quality of a good horror film in that it can be read as a parable for societal relations.

The whole cast is great, but special mention goes to Lupita Nyong’o for her acting. Her Oscar for 12 Years A Slave was no fluke. What she does here is pull off two very distinct and yet deeply connected roles and she is amazing to watch. Winston Duke is charming as her husband Gabe and the two children, Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex), are a lot of fun to watch interact. I also enjoyed Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker as their neighbours.

Altogether, I loved Us and I think it is a fine example of what the horror genre is capable of. I loved seeing new faces and an intelligent script which finely balances the line between the amusing and the sinister. There are some great twists and surprises as well as creepy moments and real scares. This is great entertainment.

Film Review: Hereditary

A Truly Remarkable Horror Movie

High quality film-making from top to bottom sets this film apart from the rest of the genre. I thought it was extremely effective on a lot of levels, playing with audience expectations right up to the very end. Is it hallucination or are there supernatural forces at work? You are kept guessing until the final moments. I think it is one of the best horror films I’ve seen in years and it would have been on my top ten list for best of 2018 if I’d seen it when it came out. It’s nothing short of brilliant.

Toni Collette stars as Annie, an artist who builds miniature houses and recreations of events. She is married and has two children and the film opens with the funeral of her mother which causes friction in a family we come to realize is already somewhat dysfunctional. A family tragedy follows close on the heels of the funeral and the family is plunged into further disarray with hints of either madness or supernatural powers working on the family to some sinister end.

I thought the film was instantly remarkable for the power of its images. Writer/director Ari Aster uses some very interesting camera moves and angles to draw you in and make you feel unsettled. The story unfolds at a nice, slow-building pace which gets very frantic toward the end. The production design is great, making the film feel totally authentic and rooted in reality but also allowing for this other-worldliness that pervades everything. It also managed to surprise and stun me with some of its imagery and ideas.

The cast was marvelous and really made the film feel real. I especially liked how Gabriel Byrne’s performance as Steve, the beleaguered husband trying to hold the family together through two close tragedies, anchored the film in an authenticity that made the situation believable. Alex Wolff also deserves special mention as Peter, the older child who goes through some incredibly dark stuff. Toni Collette really carries the film and gives one of the most intense performances I’ve ever seen her in. She really is amazing.

Hereditary is a truly remarkable horror movie. It is top-notch film-making in every department with talented people delivering great work and it shows on screen. Not only is the script really sharp, the telling of the story by camera, production design and performance operating at such a high level of quality makes this a great movie, regardless of genre. A must-see.