Hereditary Encumbrances

You go into Hereditary thinking it’ll be some sort of wonderful all-out creepfest.  There is a definite creepiness factor, but the film morphs into yet another fairly conventional haunted house/haunted spirit flick.  For all of its careful consideration of factors such as visual design, Hereditary pays much less attention to presenting a strong compelling story.

Which is not to say it’s not compelling.  Certainly not boring.  But if you remove the miniatures, I doubt I’d recommend.  An absent starting title for no reason doesn’t help.  At least A24 didn’t revert back to the square frame on this one.

I’ve largely forgotten about this movie already, but in its immediate wake it did get under my skin a bit.  So — a begrudging 7/10.

Comparison Notes: Thelma, Poltergeist, Drag Me to Hell, and others in my Spirit” post, Rosemary’s Baby, The Shining, Psycho, The Ring, Cube, Mother!

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It good

It often feels like a throwback to both classic ’80s Spielberg flicks and anthology shows like Amazing Stories, and to classic slasher-hackers.  The cinematography and direction are refreshingly old-school.  And while the occasionally scattershot film lacks cohesion, it makes amends with moments of lyric mirth and an intimacy among its characters normally lacking in such endeavors.

It, a.k.a. Stranger Things with a Clown, delivers a twinge of fear right at the beginning, with the clown in the gutter.  That moment when we don’t know what will happen is very effective — until something does happen.  And once it does, It traverses from scary to silly and never quite comes back.  Or maybe put another way, from adult-scary to kid-scary.  Once that edge is removed, It was not able to frighten me as much as it tried.

Then in the latter part of the film, the worst thing imaginable happens: It becomes draggy.  Nonetheless, on the strength of its assets, It rises to a marginal 7/10.

Comparison Notes (recommended & essential): Stand by Me, E.T., The Ring

What a Mother!

Aronofsky certainly excels at bringing drama to a maniacal pitch, and then heaping mania upon mania to reach ever-greater crescendos.  But mania alone is not a substitute for story.  That’s why a film like Ex Machina is so much better than Mother!

Still, mania is not boring.  Bonus points for strong vision and not pulling punches raises Mother! to 7/10.

Comparison Notes: Crimson Peak, Rosemary’s Baby, other Aronofsky films like Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan, Iñárritu’s Birdman and The Revenant.

P.S.  You can consider Mother! to be Darren Aronofsky’s entry into the haunted house genre, in a season full of them.  Stay tuned for more on this, i.e. more on It.

Film Brief: Crimson Peak

Crimson Peak - poster

I figured somewhere on Rotten Tomatoes that I’d find a capsule I could swallow, but no such luck.

So, here’s mine: a terrific and unexpected first half, a let-down in the second half, and lots of great thematic elements and rich gothic atmosphere that’s never fully exploited.  Crimson Peak deserved a story with ever-more eventful intrigue, but it falls way short — as if the writers became further and further bogged down in their own thick red mire.  Still, there’s some enjoyment to be had, so a marginal recommendation.  6/10

The Conjuring of Little Emotion

The ConjuringIf you’ve never seen a haunted house movie, The Conjuring might be scary to you.  For a standard haunt-flick, it’s relatively well executed.  But the problem is : The Haunting (1963), The Exorcist, Poltergeist, and Paranormal Activity all exist.  So do The Ring, Cure, Drag Me to Hell, and The Uninvited.  And so do about 180,000 other haunted house / haunted spirit movies.  The Conjuring did not bring anything new to the party.

I think there is a core popularity to the haunted house movie that connects to the public’s obsession with Halloween.  It’s not that it’s that outlandishly scary to people, but they are entertained nonetheless.  My problem is that I’m not entertained.  It’s — as Simon Cowell would say — all a bit boring to me.  I’ve seen this a thousand times before, so all the flagellations, spasms and contortions in the world don’t get my juices flowing.  What excites me is a good scary story.

The Haunting-1963 poster medMost often the scariest movies are ones that are solidly non-supernatural.  Give me something truly “Insidious” like The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, Dead Calm, Orphan, or The Shining.

In The Conjuring, the house wasn’t that creepy, and a pseudo-historical context wasn’t taken advantage of, and neither was a very cool boggy backyard pond.  At the beginning we are informed that the movie is based on a true story.  Yea right.  There wasn’t even anything conjured, especially not fear.  3/10

Absolutely Sinister – NOT!

SinisterI kept wanting to watch Sinister when it was in theaters last year, because I like a good horror flick and I’m a fan of Ethan Hawke, but mixed ratings kept me away.  Now I understand the negative reviews.  It is your basic haunted house movie, but not a good one.  It’s highly unoriginal, not scary at all — except for the first scene, and at times farcically corny.  And it has a lot of “stupid” problems like the main character (Hawke) screaming his head off — multiple times — without waking any family members.

What I don’t get is that a lot of people thought this was a good movie.  A lot of people who supposedly are fans of the genre, which means they’ve seen good fantasy/horror/haunted spirit movies, can’t tell the difference.  Maybe the problem is that though there are a few standouts like The RingThe Shining, and Poltergeist, the vast majority of these movies are pretty bad.  So make yourself a fan of the genre and it all blends together.  Just a theory.

Paranormal Activity

Paranormal Activity

For a much better haunted house movie, see Paranormal Activity (2007) if you haven’t already.  Or even if you have – Paranormal Activity a second time through is better than Sinister the first.  I looked back at my comments on Paranormal ActivityI had given it a 7/10.  Thinking more about it now, I’d say it was more scary than a 7 — so I’m bumping it to an 8.  Keep in mind I am talking about the original of the series; I have not seen any of the sequels.

On a positive note, I watched Sinister shortly before going to bed, and it certainly did not keep me from sleeping.  It just wasn’t scary.  2/10, which is generous.

* * *

This movie makes me rethink my opinion of Mama (2/10), because I didn’t dislike Sinister quite so much as to give it a 1 rating, and Mama was clearly better than Sinister.  I think Mama has got to be at least a 3 — still not recommended, but better than I originally thought given the genre.  It emphasizes how difficult it is to make good horror, especially of the supernatural variety.  Almost as difficult as good comedy.