(director/writer: Ari Aster; cinematographer: Pawel Pogorzelski; editors: Jennifer Lame, Lucian Johnston; music: Colin Stetson; cast:  Toni Collette (Annie),  Alex Wolff (Peter),  Gabriel Byrne (Steve), Milly Shapiro (Charlie), Ann Dowd (Joan), Christy Summerhays (Peter’s teacher); Runtime: 129; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Kevin Frakes, Lars Knudsen, Buddy Patrick; A24; 2018)

“It’s a well-crafted and well-acted classic creepy psychological horror film.”

eviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A scary supernatural occult haunted family film of those living in a haunted house, whereby a supposedly ordinary but well-off family has inherited an evil curse and doesn’t know quite how to deal with it. It’s a well-crafted and well-acted classic creepy psychological horror film that’s exceptionally directed and written by the 31-year-old short film filmmaker Ari Aster (“The Strange Thing About the Johnsons“).

Annie Graham (Toni Collette) is a troubled artist (crafts miniature models of rooms and homes, supposedly a miniaturized version of her life) who lives in a splendidly artisan crafted wood-frame home (filmed in Utah) in the country with her even-keel therapist husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) and their two children–high school pot smoker Peter (Alex Wolff) and the withdrawn 13-year-old daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro), who makes strange clucking sounds and disturbing small sculptures of animals she places in her tree-house. Annie spends most of her time with her art projects, obsessive about controlling her harried life through her art.

From the opening shot we are taken in by the eerie sounds from the saxophone by Colin Stetson, as we are led to believe something is not right with this family and that they are in some kind of danger. When Annie’s peculiar matriarchal manipulative mother Ellen dies, Annie at the church delivers a eulogy that calls her out for being so stubborn and difficult to warm up to–yet expresses love for her. We learn Ellen was distant from her daughter but close with her granddaughter Charlie. What happens next stuns the family, as Ellen is only buried for a week and her grave is desecrated. Meanwhile another death in the family occurs that results from the allergic person unknowingly eating peanuts at an unchaperoned teen party.

The depressed Annie feels helpless over the two deaths and attends a group therapy sessions for those dealing with the loss of close ones. After the meeting she befriends the sympathetic group member Joan (Ann Dowd), who lures the confused Annie into attending a seance.

When Peter has an inexplicable self-destructive incident in his class, his therapist dad, a non-believer in magic, doesn’t know how to respond.

As we near the climax, the visual effects of makeup-and-prosthetics artist Steve Newburn gives the characters frightening aged looks and that adds to the bizarre black magic nightmare unfolding, as we at last learn what is haunting the family. It leads to a stunning ending that should leave the viewer with many unanswered questions about the resolution and questions about the dysfunctional family’s mental history and the influences of the occult on them.

Toni Collette is an actress I always admired. Here she gives one of her great career performances, in a film that could have seemed ridiculous if not so convincingly acted.

But, for me, it went too far off the rails with an excessive ending that left me in disbelief–as I was left scratching my head over how the ending some how was weirdly connected to the reference made in Peter’s class to the sacrifice of Iphigenia in Greek mythology. This off-the wall explanation almost ruined the film for me, a film that until the climax I found so perceptive and subtle in its insights into everyday horrors in family life as it navigated so delicately over such things as marital relations, parental caring for their children, teen angst, dealing with death and black magic.

REVIEWED ON 6/9/2018       GRADE: B