Toni Collette proves with this fierce, hypnotic performance that she is one of the most talented, versatile and powerful actors working today. This time, she sinks her claws into you and demonstrates how horror is done. She owns the screen and is backed up by a flawless cast comprising Gabriel Byrne (who co-produced with Collette), Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro and Ann Dowd.
Horror is not my favorite genre. It’s usually done badly, lazily falling back on gore, violence, characters that do dumb things and cheap “boo!” scares to raise the goose bumps. But occasionally a filmmaker aspires to the greatness of The Exorcist, Psycho or The Shining. Ari Aster is such a classicist writer/director, and it’s astounding that this confident, exquisitely observed, unshowy frightener is his debut feature. Even the séance scene seems fresh.
After the death of the matriarch of a normal if slightly insular American family, the family members begin to have strange, disturbing experiences, including the abrupt, appalling death of a second member. To tell you more would be tempting spoilers, and I don’t want to do that. Don’t even watch the trailers.
Genuinely unsettling, innovatively shocking, and almost criminally creepy, this is of the slow-burn school of horror; almost meditative in approach, and the tension never eases off for a minute. I was kind of disappointed with the over-complicated finale, which I thought inappropriate for such a patient, superbly crafted setup. But that’s not a reason to forego this stunning movie. This is one you won’t forget anytime soon. (127 min)