The Family That Cults Together, Stays Together.

What’s on tap for today?

Did I miss the memo? Is being involved in some weird occult/cult shenanigans all the rage now? The Endless, Pyewacket, and now Hereditary are riding high in many critical circles and each have their own little twist on the taboo. So, if spreading funky juju all over my essence is now the in thing then apparently my Saturday night is all booked up. Oh yeah, and this tiny little indie movie came out this weekend, Incredibles 2, maybe you’ve heard of it. I don’t think I need to explain why these two movies are different, but they’re similar only for the fact that they have to deal with the complexities of family. Also, one has way fewer beheadings than the other–let’s find out which one, shall we?

Hereditary

A couple weeks have passed since I first screened Hereditary and there is one thing I can say for certain–not a day has passed that I haven’t thought about it. Granted a lot of it was people asking me what I though and if it was as amazing and scary as the ads and critics had said it was. Putting it right out there, as I walked out of the theater I was extremely conflicted and two weeks later not much else as changed. I’m still of the mind that I like this movie, and the one thing I’m fairly certain about is that it’s absolutely not the horror juggernaut that the marketing has billed it as. In fact, unless you don’t regularly watch horror movies it’s not all that scary. It’s unsettling and there’s lots of disturbing visuals, but I never once worried about sleeping at night–and neither should you.

Full disclosure–I attended an advanced screening with a live streamed Q&A with director Ari Aster and the two young stars (Alex Wolff and Milly Shapiro) in which the youngsters were more well-spoken than the man who was behind bringing this movie to life. Aster stuttered and fumbled his way through what should have been fairly easy questions–especially having likely been coached endlessly to give quick answers for the given questions by a PR team. However, it seemed like the director was ill prepared to answer questions about his own movie which made me put into question the director’s passion not just for the movie, but the genre he had just worked in. This has had a heavy hand in my overall perception of his vision.

At over two hours, if there had been a 15-20 minutes cut and more sure handed ambiguity introduced this would have been an amazing family drama with hints of genre leanings. As is with the absolutely insane final 30 minutes there’s zero argument to be made of its supernatural twists, yet numerous questions as to whether or not any of it was melded well enough into the rest of the film to be justified.

The quick synopsis of Heredity is simply: a family begins to unravel in shocking ways after the death of the matriarch’s mother. The cult breadcrumbs are all over this movie–to the point you’ll beg for a character to pick up a damn vacuum to at least clean some of this mess up. Aster seemingly impossibly both over explains and leaves things frustratingly over explains at almost every turn. The plot elements that need more explanation are infuriatingly under attenuated while the easily digested aspects are tongue lashed to death. It often feels like a director/writer has no faith in his intended audience to suss out themes and intentions and throws in supernatural chills to distract anyone from questioning if those scares even belong in the same movie.

Aster is clearly adept at creating a sense of visual tension and the movie looks fantastic, while Toni Collette slays on screen as the family’s matriarch, Annie. Yet, it’s the tonal inconsistencies that often threw me off from what the overall internet was. The dark comedy, the depressing realness of death, and the outrageous climax are simply too at odds with each other for me to admit that somewhere deep down there’s a movie here that I love.

The first hour and a half is slow. I can deal with a slow burn and I was on board, but the deeper our toes dip into that supernatural water, the more intense the feeling that there’s something lurking in that water that’s not for me. Even anticipating a turn into the supernatural continued to feel worrisome due to the lack of rules conveyed over the course of the previous 90 minutes. Essentially, walking out and reliving some of the moments I began asking myself, “But, Why?” to a lot of the film’s key moments. Surely enough over the course of two weeks at least half of the flames have been extinguished but I’m still not convinced that the answers I have alleviate the bad taste that was left listening to a director admit that he used the genre simply to get a movie green lit and then fail to eloquently answer simple questions about his vision. There seems to be a lack of respect for the genre that I perceived that did not sit well for me and I can’t help but paint that on to the film that I saw play out even as I revisited it in my head.

As negative as I am post screening, it can’t be ignored that there are so many scenes in the first 90 minutes that are lights out amazing. I’m a viewer who feeds off raging cinematic family drama and Aster deftly handles the awkwardness. Even aspects of the supernatural insanity I find incredibly well done–it’s just the lack of anything in the way of rules for the supernatural as they relate to the world in the movie that left a lot to be desired. Hereditary is latest in a long line of super hyped horror movies that needed to take more pointers from predecessors like The Babadook and less from Paranormal Activity–especially when it comes to climaxes. At this time, I eagerly await additional viewings with some of the new information I have to make my final peace on the film, and even then I’m not as hateful on the film as I sound. Hereditary like the title suggest is ripe with inherited family strife not just with its characters but the also marketing campaign that set it up for failure amongst mainstream audiences.

Rating: B-

 

Incredibles 2

Now on to a different kind of cult…superheroes. Ok fine that’s a really weak stretch, but what better way to follow-up weeks of reliving cinematic family trauma than a family friendly sequel to a 14-year old animation classic? By all means, double feature this one and Hereditary in an afternoon at the theater and report back to me the troubling dreams you endure that night–I’m assuming it’s nothing less than disembodied heads shooting lasers from their eyes as the body hacks into your Facebook account changing your Relationship status to “It’s Complicated” with your deep seeded crush on an animated character.

I’m not the least bit surprised to see geek culture has fetishized Mrs. Incredible/Elastigirl due to her almost too purposeful curvy figure. Alright, we’re headed too deep down a weird rabbit hole now….

Incredibles 2 weirdly picks immediately following the events of the first film. The Under Miner is terrorizing the city and making off with some green from the banks with The Incredibles in hot pursuit. I’m not saying it’s weird for a sequel to pick up right after the events of the first, I’m saying it’s weird for a sequel 14 years later to pick up immediately after the events of the first. I’m not saying they needed to age the sequel in real-time, but some form of “Previously On” montage with some new footage of the events after and maybe a slight time jump would have been a little less odd for me personally.

Regardless, the city incurs a ton of damage during the fight making it even more clear that perhaps the world isn’t improved by the existence of the supers. That is, until Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and his sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener), the purveyors of a billion dollar company enlist their help to bring back supers through carefully placed PR and gadgets recording their side of how the fights go down. Their plan is spearheaded by Elastigirl leaving Bob/Mr. Incredible to Mr. Mom it up with Dash, Violet, and the adorable Jack Jack–something he’s not entirely equipped to do all by his lonesome. In the process lessons of family, gender politics and the dangers of babies with powers leading to endless “Oooohs” and “Awwwws”.

There’s maybe one other thing that’s slightly annoying about Incredibles 2 outside of the lack of some form of time jump–and it’s the villain. I’ll will grant that Screenslaver is a cool name, and the monologue playing during one pretty cool scene is super well-written, but the character is not fully realized. Perhaps by design given the ways the film’s reveals play out, but personally, I could’ve used a little more of a slow build to that arc. Outside of some these nitpicky bits, Incredibles 2 meets its namesake just as its predecessor did prior.

Some of its attempts to tackle themes don’t feel quite as fresh as they did 14 years ago, but the animation (including the action effects and character designs) have all been suitably upgraded. Save for a scene that feels like it could’ve been an extra (but delightful) Blu-ray extra, the pacing is spot on–though there are few family films that can rightfully justify a 2+ hour runtime. In fact, the aforementioned scene fit for the Blu-ray Extras menu could have been time spent giving Screenslaver a little more time to gestate their motives and intentions.

After 14 years one might have assumed collective interest in the ongoing family dynamic in The Incredibles would have at least watered itself down a bit, but I was relieved to find that I was still engaged and invested–albeit to a bunch of colorful digital creations with no actual soul, but that’s just the aging curmudgeon inside of me. I’m still (mostly) a kid at heart and animated excursions such as this defrost that sometimes icy organ just long enough to ward off the evil toxins brought on by the spreading gray hair until the next one. Let’s just hope it’s not another 14 years.

Rating: A-

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