Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB. USA, 2018. PalmStar Media. Screenplay by Ari Aster. Cinematography by Pawel Pogorzelski. Produced by Kevin Scott Frakes, Lars Knudsen. Music by Colin Stetson. Production Design by Grace Yun. Costume Design by Olga Mill. Film Editing by Lucian Johnston, Jennifer Lame. Independent Spirit Awards 2018.
Toni Collette loses her mother at the beginning of this film, conflicted about her death because of the bitter estrangement that preceded her mother’s coming to spend her last days in the house Collette shares with her husband (Gabriel Byrne) and children. The tension that Collette had with her late mother, a feeling she either can’t or won’t put her finger on, is now transferred to an increased animosity with her elder son (an excellent Alex Wolff), and greater worries for her aloof daughter (Milly Shapiro) and may or may not be causing the odd apparition in her house when she switches off the lights…or is that her imagination? Grief therapy helps a bit, but something stronger is needed when the first funeral is followed by a much more devastating event that kicks things up a notch, bringing a newcomer into Collette’s life (a fabulous Ann Dowd) who insists that a seance is exactly what the doctor ordered. First-time director Ari Aster has created a number of sequences in this film that are so well directed that they will remain on your mind for days, the details of which will go unmentioned for fear of spoiling the delights that this movie has to offer. The breadcrumbs are scattered too vaguely to ever let you feel like you’re being led down to the dark pit that this one eventually goes to, but as crumbs they are, for most part, delicious, and the scariest moments that are saved for the conclusion are well worth getting to. A little more narrative cohesion would be appreciated between movements of the plot, however, as Aster goes from haunting-as-grief Babadook metaphor to What Lies Beneath poltergeist mystery to what appears to be The Wicker Man at the eleventh hour; it never all feels like one movie, at times it’s rich with a sense of discovery and at others with a gooey sense of dread. The character of the deceased mother is given too much narrative weight for the little we find out about her, and her daughter’s issues with her are related through dialogue but never actually fall into place by the time the film is over. The unifying element is the always stupendous Collette, who has no fear about burning the scenery down with her voluptuously emotional performance and, at some point, you decide to simply accept all the varied elements of the film that don’t pay off (her work as a miniature artist, for example) because of how compelling she is.