August 7, 2020

Winnipeg
21° C, A few clouds

Full Forecast

Close this
Winnipeg Free Press

ABOVE THE FOLD

Subscribe

Fears for ears

Free Press critics agree: stylish horror film ramps up dread with effective sound design

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 8/6/2018 (791 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The release of the horror movie Hereditary has been accompanied by some hype suggesting that this is a contemporary horror movie equal to William Friedkin’s classic The Exorcist.

Written and directed by first-time feature director Ari Aster, it’s about a family that starts to come unmoored after the death of grandma, leaving troubled artist Annie (Toni Collette) as the surviving house matriarch to her daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) and teen son Peter (Alex Wolff), with assistance from supportive husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne).

Elevation Pictures</p><p>Toni Collette runs the gamut of emotions as a troubled artist and mother in Hereditary.</p></p>

Elevation Pictures

Toni Collette runs the gamut of emotions as a troubled artist and mother in Hereditary.

Charlie is an especially odd duck, making strange "nok" sounds and wandering off at night to sleep in a treehouse.

Annie’s artwork involves creating miniature interiors that reflect the somewhat warped dynamics of her own household. That art takes a twisted turn when the family endures another devastating loss, resulting in Annie investigating what may be a supernatural legacy she and her family have inherited from Annie’s absent-yet-still-present mother.

To review the film, the Free Press sent hardened movie critics Alison Gillmor and Randall King to the screening along with music writer Erin Lebar, a confessed scaredy-cat where horror films are concerned.

Here’s the triple consensus:

Randall King

(To Erin) Were you terrorized?

Erin Lebar

I was very uncomfortable the entire time. But I react very viscerally to sound, and this film has a very in-your-face soundscape; it was very unnerving and very much in the forefront the entire time, so that’s why I was sitting with my ears plugged for a good three-quarters of the two-hour running time. I can watch almost anything, but I can’t deal with the loud, freaky sounds.

Alison Gillmor

That’s interesting.

Erin Lebar

Yeah, so for me it wasn’t so much the story as it was the sound, including Charlie’s stupid little mouth click that I will have nightmares about forever.

Randall King

I’d been hearing the Exorcist comparisons, which I never really buy into. It’s its own movie, really.

Alison Gillmor

I thought there were echoes of The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby, a few other of my favourite films. Not that it’s as good as either of those — it has a kind of wacky inconsistency — but it shares some horror DNA.

Randall King

I would add Suspiria to that. Especially towards the end. You’re plunged into a universe where anything goes, and it’s very unsettling, especially since most of the movie is grounded in the real world.

Alison Gillmor

What I thought was interesting about it was that the trailer really plays up the shocking horror moments, but then the film itself is much more about emotional dread — an hour-and-a-half of pure, constant, thrumming dread before the shocker ending. It is like The Exorcist, in that you get this long lead-up where you’re thinking, is this supernatural or is this just the alienation, the disconnection of modern life? Here there’s so much family dysfunction — guilt, resentment, deception — before the crazy stuff kicks in. It’s more about the haunted family before you get to the haunted house.

 

 

Erin Lebar

Yes, that trailer was very misleading for a lot of reasons. Which I will not expand on because #spoilers. But the story definitely did not go where I thought it was going to go, and I’m not sure yet if that’s a good or bad or neutral thing. Ask me again tomorrow after what is bound to be an uneasy sleep.

Randall King

It’s always been said that the people who were especially terrified by The Exorcist were Catholics, because it hit them where they live. And this is about family and family hits everybody where they live, if you will. So I can see how it’s a good idea to set its parameters more broadly.

Erin Lebar

For me, it took too long to connect the dots.

Randall King

I don’t think you were meant to.

Erin Lebar

Yeah, probably, but I just never knew what was happening, and more importantly, I didn’t know why things were happening. There was no clear motive, I guess? At least not until the very, very end. I felt like it took a long time to have a sense of movement in terms of pushing the plot forward. It was like plateaued terror, plateaued terror, séance, creepy girl, creepy boy, creepy mom doing creepy art, another séance, and then it all of a sudden ramped up to 100 in the last 20 minutes.

Alison Gillmor

Those are pretty crazy dots, even for an art-house horror movie. The other thing it reminded me of — and this is where it picks up themes of The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby, too — is The Babadook, which is really about motherhood. I mean there’s always been scary mothers in horror, but it’s about the terror of motherhood, at least partly from the mother’s point of view. And I think that works really effectively. The film plays on some of your worst fears and your worst guilt about motherhood.

Randall King

I think you’re exactly right, and you’re the only mother in the room, so…

Alison Gillmor

My children are both fine, by the way!

Randall King

But yes, I think you’re right, I think that’s the kind of approach that hooks you. Also, she’s a mother but she’s also carrying a lot of the baggage from her mother.

Erin Lebar

Hence Hereditary!

Alison Gillmor

Oooh!

Randall King

Movies just don’t scare me anymore.

Alison Gillmor

You’re so Gabriel Byrne-like.

Randall King

I kind of am. These days, the only filmmaker who can keep me up at night is David Lynch.

 

Elevation Pictures</p><p>Milly Shapiro as Charlie</p>

Elevation Pictures

Milly Shapiro as Charlie

 

Erin Lebar

You didn’t think that little girl was creepy as hell?

Randall King

Not really.

Erin Lebar

Oh my God. Imagine waking up to that kid standing next to your bed in the middle of the night… good Lord.

Randall King

That’s not to say I wasn’t impressed. I do think it’s a wonderful achievement in style.

Alison Gillmor

I thought the style was quite extraordinary, actually. All those weird little maquettes of the family home that just got odder and odder, eventually busting down the barrier between artifice and reality.

Randall King

Yeah I loved that. And the sound design was fantastic.

Erin Lebar

I like that the filmmakers were able to illustrate the relationship between Annie and her mother without the audience ever actually meeting the mother, just through the figurines. Like, the mom figurine creepily standing in the doorway while Annie and her husband are in bed or holding her breast out to breastfeed Annie’s baby, which is really weird and not a thing that’s normal, I hope.

Alison Gillmor

Nope, definitely not normal. But yes, I don’t know who that actress was, but her present non-presence was pretty effective.

Erin Lebar

Final thoughts?

Alison Gillmor

All hail Toni Collette, who can basically do anything. She covers the spectrum of motherhood, from protective to awful to angry to suffering to … well, I can’t really say without getting way spoiler-y, but it’s a revelation.

Erin Lebar

I agree, I am always impressed with Toni Collette’s versatility and, in this case specifically, how she expertly navigated her character’s emotional/mental transitions. For me, going into watching this, I was mentally prepared to be catatonic with fear. However, while I was indeed emotionally and physically uncomfortable — my body hurts from all my muscles stress-tightening for two hours — it wasn’t that bad. There aren’t the sort of jump-scare tactics you’d expect, which is what I hate the most, but rather it’s more of a resounding creepiness that only becomes intolerable for scaredy-cats such as me during the last 20 minutes. If I can make it through, anyone can.

Randall King

I would suggest this first-time director Ari Aster is better than simple jump scares. He’s a guy who has a very good understanding how important sound editing is in the horror genre. From Cat People to Invasion of the Body Snatchers to The Exorcist, it’s been proved that the most reliable pathway for a filmmaker to induce terror is through the ears. And, wow, it’s demonstrated here… in spades.

 

Elevation Pictures</p><p>From left: Gabriel Byrne, Toni Collette and Alex Wolff deal with supernatural goings-on.</p></p>

Elevation Pictures

From left: Gabriel Byrne, Toni Collette and Alex Wolff deal with supernatural goings-on.

Alison Gillmor

Alison Gillmor
Writer

Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.

Read full biography

Erin Lebar

Erin Lebar
Multimedia producer

Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

Read full biography

Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

Read full biography

The Winnipeg Free Press invites you to share your opinion on this story in a letter to the editor. A selection of letters to the editor are published daily.

To submit a letter:
• fill out the form on this page, or
• email letters@freepress.mb.ca, or
• mail Letters to the Editor, 1355 Mountain Avenue, Winnipeg, Manitoba, R2X 3B6.

Letters must include the writer’s full name, address, and a daytime phone number. Letters are edited for length and clarity.