Never lose your head in a horror movie…
I know, it’s 2021, and I’m just getting to this movie now, but I’ve had a lot on my plate that simply kept taking precedent. I mean, I wanted to see this in the theater but I didn’t get the chance, and then it kept coming out on streaming services I didn’t have. Hey, better late than never, I guess.
There was a lot about this movie that reminded me of Lovely Molly (2011) from both the tone and some of the plot elements. The pacing is slow, but every damn sense has a sense of unrelenting tension. Even the set is constantly cluttered in every scene, providing a discomforting sense of entropy. Everything looks, old, dark, and depressed, and there is so much detail to take in. It’s truly jarring which has to be one of the most amazing uses of atmosphere I’ve seen, since the original Suspiria (1977).
There are a ton of pieces that had to fit intricately together in order for this to work and there are a lot of things they make a point to showcase directly, which you know is important but can’t possibly fathom how. And the symbolism hidden into the background among the clutter, which in many cases is occult iconography, is meticulously and purposefully placed. Again, much like Argento’s Suspiria.
You get the feeling the lead, Annie (played by Toni Collette) suffered a lot of significant trauma from her mother, for many reasons. Her mother was a controlling figure and from the hints you get, throughout the plot, emotionally and mentally abusive at best, but likely psychically as well.
Annie seems to expresses what is likely PTSD in these little dioramas. It’s clearly some sort of coping mechanism, and they’re the only thing in the entire movie that is well organized. Early in the movie, while we’re still focused on the death of the mother, she appears in these dioramas as this imposing, ever-present force.
It’s impressive how they make everything moment of this movie seem like a coincidence, which I can’t get too deeply into without spoilers. But needless to say, the hidden iconography isn’t just for show and is all a part of the story.
Seriously, telling the story this effectively, through the setting as much as through the actual character is so rare.
I can absolutely recommend this movie, and consider it a ‘Must Watch.’ It won’t be particularly high on my “All-Time Top Horror” list, but it’s definitely going to be on there.
When this movie first opened, it was billed as a sort of possession movie involving the youngest daughter of the family, Charlie. But quickly, hundreds of people spoiled the scene where Charlie gets decapitated by a telephone pole. Thankfully, this spoiler doesn’t ruin the movie, but actually only adds to the intriguing plot. If the point was for some invading spirit to get at Charlie, how could that happen if they kill her off so early in the movie?
This, as it turns out is part of the ritual in two ways. First, it separates Annie from her family, as now she blames her son for the death of Charlie, but also driving a wedge into her marriage, which was already on the rocks. Second, this death is actually a part of the whole ritual to summon the spirit of a demon Paimon.
All of the sudden, Annie seems to be the target, and all these coincidences become a conspiracy. Even Annie herself is a central part of the ritual involving her mother, and her daughter. My one issue here is this. As estranged as Annie was with her mother, she must have known she was in a cult, and it’s hard to believe that she never once met Joan, the character that executes the full conspiracy. Yeah, they try to explain that her mother was really secretive… sure but she wasn’t fucking 007. Some of that must have stuck out, especially because of how central Annie and her children are to the conspiracy. I just don’t buy the concept that all of these people and her mother’s rituals were so easily hidden from here. This, however, is a small complaint.
Also, the character of the husband, Steve leans a bit too hard on the ‘Asshole Husband’ trope, being unsupported, dismissive, contemptible, and even lashing out in ways that are purely to indulge his frustration with Annie. I found this to be more annoying than the obviousness of the conspiracy against Annie. It sorta makes the plot a little too easy.
But these issues aside, the movie is quite brilliant and engrossing, if anything, simply because the plot is so fascinating.
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