Hereditary

After the family matriarch passes away, a grieving family is haunted by tragic and disturbing occurrences, and begin to unravel dark secrets.

Hereditary has been on my radar for some time as part of a long list of horror films that I have had on my wishlist. I decided to watch it at home before taking myself off to the cinema to see Midsommar by the same director, Ari Aster, mainly to get a sense of what I was getting myself into.

Oh my.

So we have Annie, an artist whose abusive mother after struggling with Alzheimer’s, and because Annie did not get on with her mother at all she is finding it difficult to grieve and is a mixture of angry and fragile. This has an unhealthy impact on her family; husband Steve is a decent man trying to hold everything together, and the teenagers Charlie and Peter. All sorts of little odd things happen, then An Event takes place which changes the dynamic of the film and we move into finding out all of the dark secrets in the family, and some outside malign influences.

Then it all goes batshit crazy.

The first thing to say about this is I didn’t find it frightening. I did, however, find it disturbing and really unsettling, making me feel uneasy and frightened on behalf of several of the characters, especially Peter.

There are several gross-out moments which I found effective with a certain amount of “how is that even possible” floating around the back of my mind.

Several reviewers have references the influence of Rosemary’s Baby (a film which freaked me out when I saw it as a teenager and which I still find difficult to watch) and I think that’s a very valid comparison. I liked the feeling of dread, that sense that something is about to happen and you know it’s going to be awful but it can’t be stopped.

The last 20 minutes or so is deeply strange and veers a little close to silliness but gets away with it, entirely due to the performances of the main cast. Toni Collette as Annie is amazing; I hated and felt sorry for her all at once.

Would watch again.

Dazzling details: Hereditary was directed by Ari Aster, is 2h 7m long and rated 15 for strong threat, gory images, language and drug use.

Annihilation

A biologist signs up for a dangerous, secret expedition into a mysterious zone where the laws of nature don’t apply.

I loved Annihilation when it was published back in 2014 and devoured it and its sequels as soon as they were released, so I was really interested when I saw that a film version was on the cards. It’s taken me this long to watch it because although I have Netflix we didn’t (until very recently) have a smart TV, and I had heard that it was best to watch this on the biggest screen possible. So when our new TV was installed this was the first movie I watched by myself.

So as the description above explains, Natalie Portman is a biologist who takes part in an expedition into an area of the country known as the Southern Reach where something, possibly extraterrestrial, has led to something called the Shimmer, where nature and time are corrupted. Natalie’s character has become involved because her husband (Oscar Isaac), missing for a year, suddenly returns and she finds out that his secret mission was one in a line of expeditions which have all failed – no-one has come back before him.

The new team is made up of Natalie and four other women – in the books they have no names and are just described by their roles – and one of the strengths of the film is watching a team of intelligent and brave women working together to solve a problem. When things fall apart they do so in the same way that all of the other missions were affected, mostly due to paranoia.

What makes this special for me is that the film doesn’t shy away from the horrors of a place where things are so out of whack. There are deformed animals including the most frightening bear you will ever see on screen and evidence that the teams before them did some terrible things – a gruesome and shocking piece of footage from her husband’s expedition in particular. The film also doesn’t skimp on beautiful visuals showing just how strange the world inside the Shimmer can be – plants growing in the shape of humans, strange colours and so on.

It is such a shame that Annihilation wasn’t given a theatrical release, especially as it seems to have been due to the studio freaking out that the film was too intellectually challenging, which makes me sad. Don’t get me wrong, if you’ve been reading here for a while you will know that I love science fiction in all its forms, however “dumb”, but sometimes it’s nice to have a film that gets you thinking long afterwards (and not because you’re trying to fill in major plot holes).

Also pleased to say my Tessa Thompson girl-crush is firmly in place.

It’s bloody and creepy and beautiful. I loved it and will be watching it again I’m sure.

Dazzling details – Alex Garland directed, the film is 1h 55m long and rated 15 for strong language, gore, sex

Changeling

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I usually try to summarise the plot of the novels I read in my own words but I was amused by the Amazon outline because of the wee bit at the end (embolding is mine)

Elusive online journalist Scott King investigates the disappearance of seven-year-old Alfie in an intensely dark, deeply chilling and searingly thought-provoking thriller … for fans of Serial

because I am becoming increasingly aware of the habit some online retailers have in trying to link one thing to another thing which is not quite the same – at least this time it’s not in the title as has happened in the past 😀 – this sort of marketing drives me a tad crazy. No criticism of Matt Wesolwski at all, of course.

Rant over.

So Changeling is the third in the Six Stories series, which is based around fictional podcaster Scott King who investigates events, usually involving murder or disappearances, over six episodes, each one having a different point of view. He is clear that he isn’t trying to provide a definitive solution to any of these mysteries but that he is leaving it up to his listeners to decide what happened in each case. The structure of each book is podcast episode transcripts, often interspersed with other material such as Scott’s own audio log.

I loved the previous two in the series and as soon as I saw this was coming out I snapped it up and read it almost immediately.

So as Amazon tried to tell us, Changeling covers the disappearance of Alfie, a young boy whose parents have separated, He is being taken by his doting father away from his alcoholic mother when, after his father stops the car to deal with a noise from the engine Alfie disappears into local woods. These woods have a reputation for sinister and potentially supernatural happenings, so the investigation is about whether Alfie was (literally) spirited away or if something else happened. And I’ll stop there, because the pleasure in the book is watching how things unfold.

I will put my hand up here and say that I was pretty sure I knew where the story was going to end up and I was more or less right, though not how it happened. But to be honest it didn’t bother me that I could see the end point; the writing, and in particular Scott’s distinctive voice, makes the unravelling of the mystery so enjoyable.

If you tend toward creepy mysteries with strong characters then you will enjoy Changeling, but be warned that it deals with issues relating to abusive behaviour; the author has a very helpful note at the end of the book explaining why he decided to tackle this distressing topic.

I really enjoyed this and hope that it’s not the last we hear of Scott King.

Bird Box

a5f8363bd1c3503ed0b4004cda9803feA creepy take on the post-apocalyptic survival genre, I bought Bird Box ages ago but decided to read it now because a film version starring Sandra Bullock is coming soon to Netflix and/or cinemas (if it isn’t there already!)

So, Malorie lives alone in a house with her two children, known only as Boy and Girl. We know something awful has happened but at this stage not what, except that it requires avoiding looking outside and wearing tight blindfolds whenever leaving the house.

As the story develops we learn that around several years previously there were reports of people seeing something which immediately drove them to carry out extreme acts of violence. It started in Russia and then spread across the world (presumably); certainly to the USA. In flashbacks we learn the impact of these events on Malorie and the group that she took refuge with, how she came to be alone with the children, and her plans to finally head for safety.

I enjoyed the structure of the book which flips backwards and forwards between (I think) three timelines. I would have loved to have had lots of detail about the threat that everyone is hiding from, because I relish the build up to the end of the world in the same way that I love hard SF – I like to know how things work, what can I say. But having said that, the lack of detail actually works really well in building up tension – for example, is this actually real or some kind of global hallucination – and giving the sense that the reader knows as little about what’s happening as Malorie does. The particular details of how she ended up alone are both sad and horrifying.

What didn’t work quite so well for me was the ending. There is a clear conclusion to Malorie’s story but it left me with questions and a mild sense of dissatisfaction. However, the bulk of the book is well written and I have already got my hands on more of Josh Malerman’s books.

I am intrigued about how this is going to work as a movie, and I also now want to see A Quiet Place which seems to have a similar premise, though focussing on hearing rather than sight.