Superior horror film Hereditary plays with genre expectations while still offering plenty of scares
Hereditary (15) ****
Supertroopers 2 (15) *
The Happy Prince (15) **
Studio 54 (15) ***
The most intense thing in the new American horror film Hereditary isn’t a jump scare but a prolonged moment of trauma following an unspeakable tragedy. The tragedy itself – no spoilers, so don’t worry – is one of those disruptive moments that you know is coming almost from the start, yet when it happens, it still manages to shock. It’s the masterful way debut director Ari Aster deals with the aftermath, though, that resonates. Leaving us with no option but to contemplate the irreversible nature of what’s just happened, the film replicates the trance-like feeling of a nightmare that won’t end. It also further clues us into what an odd film this is. Ostensibly a supernatural chiller about the unshakeable nature of a family curse, it sidesteps easy interpretation so stylishly that even when it’s dangling obvious horror movie tropes in front of us, there’s no danger of it being mistaken for a conventional genre exercise.
Partly that’s down to how brilliantly acted it is, especially by Toni Collette, cast here in a role that requires her to run the full gamut of parental anxieties while coming apart at the seams in a realistic way. She plays Annie, an artist who makes miniature autobiographical dioramas that she exhibits in big city galleries. As the film opens she’s working on a new show while dealing with her mother’s recent death and we can tell from her awkward eulogy that they had a fractious relationship. Annie herself has a difficult relationship with her own offspring, partly as a result of her late mother’s meddling, partly as a consequence of her own deep-rooted anxieties about being a parent. Both her 13-year-old daughter, Charlie (Milly Shapiro), and her teenage son, Peter (Alex Wolff), have issues of their own, the former being a bit of a loner who crafts hideous toys from dead animals and doll parts, the latter well on his way to becoming a pot-smoking burnout. Grandma’s death is the catalyst that sets all of them (including Annie’s supportive but increasingly impatient husband Steve, played by Gabriel Byrne) on a path to ruin, Aster’s meticulous compositions slyly suggesting an absence of free will right from the off.
But what’s intriguing and scary here is the way the plot repeatedly zigs when it seems like it’s going to zag. In this it feels very much part of the spate of recent horror films – Get Out, It Follows, A Quiet Place – that are pushing at genre limitations to do something a little smarter and a little more provocative. And yet it also understands the way the auteur horror classics like Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist and The Shining embraced horror tropes as useful red herrings, eventually discarding them to mine deeper anxieties about the period in which they were made. Hereditary certainly serves up its fare share of hoary old clichés, even if it’s not always as adept at weaving them into the film without breaking the spell of the performances and reminding us just what type of film we’re watching – or supposed to be watching. Some of the reveals are also undermined by the sheer amount of plot stuffed in here. This is a film that at times plays like the pilot episode of some brilliant new prestige TV show that unexpectedly jumps straight to the wigged-out season finalé without following through on many of its more disturbing elements. But at least Aster commits to those elements and in the end, its dramatic meditations on grief eventually combine with its more supernatural undertones to make this feel like a satanic panic film for an era in which disruption and chaos have become the norm; an era in which hopelessness prevails.
And on the subject of hopelessness, 17 years on from the barely remembered comedy Super Troopers comes Super Troopers 2: a crowd-funded sequel that’s getting a peculiarly wide release. Dated man-child humour and lame culture -clashing gags are the order of the day as the now well-into-middle-age members of comedy troupe Broken Lizard return (alongside Brian Cox) to play the hapless highway patrol officers as they’re despatched to Canada to contend with a border dispute. As rubbish as it sounds.
A passion project for Rupert Everett, The Happy Prince sees the actor directing himself as Oscar Wilde in this biopic tracing the writer’s exile in Paris following his imprisonment for “gross indecency”. The film has its heart in the right place and Everett clearly understands the pain Wilde endured in his final years, but as a writer/director, he’s not quite up to the task of making its fractured structure compelling.
Wilde would probably have got a kick out of Studio 54 had he lived in 1970s New York. The legendary disco became a refuge for the city’s gay and transgender inhabitants, to say nothing of its status as the celebrity hangout du jour. Its rapid rise and even swifter fall is the subject of Matt Tyrnauer’s entertaining documentary, which gets on record for the first time co-owner Ian Schrager’s side of the story. Mostly it’s a suitably wild ride, detailing his friendship with the late Steve Rubell, who became the public face of the club while Schrager remained in the background. Schrager’s butter-wouldn’t-melt smile gets ever broader as the film delves into the club’s shady financial dealings, but it gets the story across effectively enough and makes a compelling case for its importance to the city’s social history. ■