Beware the ides of March (and those unpredictably slippery streets). As you hide out indoors to avoid the slush, watch the incredible must-see documentary Horror Noire on Shudder. Then, when you’ve finished watching, read the book Horror Noire: Blacks in American Horror Films From the 1890s to Present by Robin R. Means Coleman. THEN, after you’re done THAT, switch over to Netflix and check out our selections for the month! (Seriously, though, watch Horror Noire.)
Dir. Ari Aster. Starring: Toni Colette, Alex Wolff, Gabriel Byrne.
Synopsis: A family must grapple with sinister occurrences and rising dysfunction in the wake of a terrible and unexpected tragedy.
When you’re in the mood for: Family horror; supernatural; intense; slow burn; tragedy; melodrama.
Possibly the most polarizing Netflix & Kill pick in recent memory, Hereditary sparked both condemnation and Oscar buzz upon its release last year. Toni Colette turns in a sublime and rattling performance as Annie Graham, an artist haunted by enormous grief who struggles to connect with her ever-dwindling family.
It’s difficult to believe that Hereditary is the first feature film from director Ari Aster, heretofore known for a series of twisted shorts. The directing is confident and bold, incorporating innovative and visually stunning choices that are used to simultaneously throw the audience off-kilter and draw them further into the story. The extraordinary opening shot is a stand-out example (I won’t spoil its unique hook by describing it—just watch.)
The film is equal parts supernatural horror and family drama. The film explores the often excruciating dysfunction that shapes the interactions within Annie’s nuclear family, which includes her husband, Steve (Gabriel Byrne), her son, Peter (an outstanding performance by Alex Wolff), and her daughter, Charlie (Milly Shapiro). But it also delves into Annie’s troubled matrilineal ancestry, with its history of emotional abuse and possible mental illness. The supernatural elements, as they start to manifest, are genuinely chilling and artfully wielded, but many of the more graphic scenes are extremely disturbing. This is not a film to watch with a casual horror fan or non-horror-loving loved one. The action leading up to the climax is violent, cruel, and emotionally intense, and likely to stay with you for a long time.
Hereditary’s ending caught a lot of flack from many viewers (I personally loved it, apart from the unnecessary voiceover). If you’re looking for a little more explanation as to what exactly was happening in that backyard, check out this article which outlines some subtle clues appearing throughout the film.
My rating: Loved it.
The Woman in Black: Angel of Death (2014)
Dir. Tom Harper. Starring: Phoebe Fox, Helen McCrory, Oaklee Pendergast.
Synopsis: When a group of Londoners are evacuated to the countryside during WWII, they discover that it’s difficult to keep calm and carry on when you’re living in a haunted house.
When you’re in the mood for: Supernatural; period film; haunting; female-led; slow burn; child horror; international.
The Woman in Black: Angel of Death returns to the location of the haunted Eel Marsh House in which The Woman in Black was set. This time, the story takes place decades later during World War II. Phoebe Fox plays Eve Parkins, a young schoolteacher who, along with her headmistress, Jean (Helen McCrory), are responsible for caring for a group of young children being evacuated from London after a bombing. The group are sent to stay in the ostensible safety of the countryside, reluctantly setting up house in the foreboding and run-down manor.
One of the children, Edward (Oaklee Pendergast), is in particularly bad shape, having lost his parents the day before the relocation. Rendered mute by his trauma, Edward is bullied by the other children and finds himself drawn into the forbidden areas of the house. As his tormentors and Eve herself begin to experience strange phenomena, it becomes clear that the manor is even less welcoming than they thought.
The Woman in Black: Angel of Death doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but the story is engaging enough and I cannot say no to a ghost story featuring creepy British children. The isolated location and creepy atmosphere serve the story well, and the film does feature a few deliciously eerie scares.
My rating: Really liked it.
Await Further Instructions (2018)
Dir. Johnny Kevorkian. Starring: Sam Gittins, Neerja Naik, Grant Masters.
Synopsis: A dysfunctional family spends a more-nightmarish-than-normal Christmas together after mysterious instructions start appearing on their television.
When you’re in the mood for: Speculative fiction; psychological horror; siege; family horror; chamber drama; suspense; mystery; international.
The Brits are well-represented in this edition of Netflix & Kill (as is family dysfunction). Await Further Instructions is an ambitious little siege story with a low budget but a lot of ideas.
Our protagonists are Nick (Sam Gittins) and Anjii (Neerja Naik), young and in love and heading to Nick’s family home for the first time as a couple. It’s Christmas Day, and the Milgrim family’s foibles and neuroses have their places set at the table. His mother, Beth (Abigail Cruttenden), struggles to connect emotionally with his cold and dictatorial father, Tony (Grant Masters). His narcissistic sister, Kate (Holly Weston), is having a baby with Scott (Kris Saddler), an alpha-male meathead. His grandfather (David Bradley) is an uncouth racist.
Christmas Dinner would be difficult enough with a family like this under ordinary circumstances, but things take a turn for the terrifying when the house is enveloped with a mysterious black substance and the family loses all ability to make contact with the outside world—apart from the ominous instructions which begin to appear on their television. The family’s panic leads to conflict, paranoia, and eventually violence, as schisms deepen between them. The film can be heavyhanded and clumsy with its allegorical intentions: the story takes swipes at the xenophobic foundation of Brexit, authoritarianism, and our over-reliance on technology without landing any of its punches with real impact, and the characters are fairly flat representations of conflicting ideologies. But the premise is genuinely interesting and I appreciated their commitment to the insanely-executed climax (in spite of their lack of special effects budget).
The film would have made a great Black Mirror episode with a more polished script and a stronger focus. At the very least, it’s a moderately engaging diversion.
My rating: Liked it.