From the opening shot when the camera closes in on a miniature replica of a bedroom which then reveals itself to be an actual bedroom I felt an enormous, and dreadfully real, sense of discomfort and unease. I felt as if someone had placed a wool blanket on top of me which had been soaked in water…the weight of it, its impact on my ability to find comfort, the difficulty it caused me to breathe properly; I could feel it all.
Annie (Toni Collette) and Steve (Gabriel Byrne) live with their two children Peter (Alex Wolff) and Charlie (Millie Shapiro) in a beautiful home where Annie works as a miniaturist…a successful artist. Their home resembles, in more ways than one, the Overlook Hotel from Kubrick’s “The Shining” and the dynamics of the family relationships also have much in common with the Torrance clan. Tension and conflict are constantly bubbling underneath the public faces of the family.
The film starts with the death of Annie’s mother and her funeral reveals to us that she was a private woman with her own private rituals. We subsequently learn that she also had a strained relationship with Annie and an uncomfortably close relationship with Charlie. That relationship lies at the heart of the events that unfold and…that is about as much as I can say without spoilers.
First time feature writer/director Ari Aster has delivered a film that skilfully and lovingly presents several horror tropes but that manages to transcend the genre it is operating in so that it can say something about family, parenthood, faith, death, fate and destiny. It is a world away from the ills of the torture porn genre or the jump scare reliant likes of the “Insidious” franchise and takes its inspiration from the likes of the already mentioned “The Shining”, Ira Levin’s “Rosemary’s Baby” and the high points of the J-Horror of the early noughties. It is an instant classic and will, without doubt, sit in every best of horror list from now on.
There are moments of genuine terror here as well as moments that will have you laughing out loud…but only as a means of stopping the tears of fear that are welling in your eyes. Many of the most memorable moments have been lodged in my mind for days now and I cannot stop myself from making a certain sound, even though I don’t want to make that sound. That is the mark of a genuinely great horror film, it lodges itself in your mind and makes switching the lights off at bedtime a terrifying prospect.