Beau (2011, Ari Aster): Only 6 minutes vs. the main feature’s 179, so this felt like a good place to start. Beau is leaving his apartment to visit his mother when his keys get stolen, so he tries to stay awake long enough to catch the thief returning, and possible goes insane along the way. Good comic-action bit when he’s rushed by a guy with a pocketknife, but the knife folds in and cuts off the assailant’s own finger. Aster’s camera moves are cool, but he hadn’t learned how to shoot towards a sunlit window (or any light source).
In the feature Beau is Joaquin Phoenix instead of the late Billy Mayo, his keys stolen in the same situation as the short, with the same line of dialogue afterward in the hallway (“you’re fucked, pal”). He lives in a nightmarish apartment in a hellish city, takes the “always with water” pills prescribed by shrink Stephen McKinley Henderson just as his water gets cut off, dashes across the street for bottled water and every scumbag on the block occupies and destroys his apartment.
I hadn’t read much about this in advance, and with all the movies’ focus on empathizing with their character/writer neurosis, even kids’ cartoons being ranked by most accurate panic-attack portrayal, I was surprised to see that it’s not all in Beau’s head – his fears are justified, even the ones about his mother. And for the first two hours it’s a hilarious anxiety comedy – probably best that I watched this alone at home since I was hooting and hollering. Wonderful to hear a George Harrison song since I was just watching the Scorsese doc about him – less wonderful to see pathetic Beau sporting the same shirt that I’ve been known to wear to work.
Divided into acts by Beau’s blackouts after various near-death experiences, he learns from a suspiciously Bill Hader-y UPS man that his mom died in a freak accident, he’s rescued/abducted by mega-pleasant family Amy Ryan and Nathan Lane until their daughter Kylie Rogers suicides by drinking paint, then they send a twisted army vet after him into the woods, where he gets into a whole forest theater situation inspired by the “Bachelorette” video. He gets home for the funeral and the movie’s still got another hour left. Beau runs into his childhood love Parker Posey before mom appears alive and he maybe matricides her. Posey and Patti LuPone as mom are both great, and I’m always happy to see Richard Kind, but his big Defending Your Life/Truman Show trial finale is bad.
Mostly shot in Hungary, haha. I’d been saving this Sweden-set horrorfilm for our own trip to Sweden, but with our flight cancelled and SAS absconding with our ticket money, suppose I’ll just watch it now. Florence Pugh, known for having the most emotionally expressive face in the business, mostly expresses sullen sadness here after her whole family dies then her boyfriend who wanted to break up with her reluctantly lets her join his friends’ trip to visit a psychedelic pagan cult in rural Sweden.
The trip is for Chidi’s research, and I sorta buy his part in the academia subplots, but not Pugh’s boy Christian (get it? Jack Reynor, the cool older brother in Sing Street). Christian doesn’t read as a grad student, and unapologetically tries to steal Chidi’s research topic just by saying so, with no background or theory or actual, uh research, except for questioning the locals after it’s already clear to us that they’ll all be sacrificed in some ritual or another. I waited three whole hours for him to get Kill-Listed after reading somewhere that those two movies have the same ending, but he was burned alive inside Chekhov’s Bear instead, which is nowhere near the same thing.
Reynor, Pugh, Chidi:
Will Poulter (The Little Stranger) is “the shitty friend” according to my notes, but there’s tough competition – all these dudes deserve a good burning. It’s a great looking movie, so I didn’t mind the three hours even if I wouldn’t wanna watch it again. Katy should not watch it at all – between the bad relationships and graphic head injuries, it’s about the least-Katy movie I watched all SHOCKtober. The lengthy version I watched adds more close-ups of smashed heads (good for me, bad for Katy) and 20+ minutes of Chidi going on about his thesis (vice-versa).
Another well-made, scary horror movie that oughtta make everyone’s decade-in-horror lists. Great cast led by Toni Collette and her son Alex Wolff (he played The Rock in flashback in a Jumanji sequel), with Gabriel Byrne as the only family member with one foot in reality, Milly Shapiro as the creepy daughter, and Ann Dowd (The Leftovers) as Toni’s grief counseling buddy.
I can’t complain about a well-acted horror that ends with the apocalyptic rise of a demon cult – that is one of my very favorite things – but it seemed while watching that the movie’s themes/intentions didn’t come together. Toni’s dollhouse models and the way Aster shoots the proper house as if it were a model are cool… and the ghosts/seances angle is neat… and Toni’s love/hate thing with her own children is fascinating… then Alex is set up to host his little sister’s spirit and/or the spirit of an ancient king, per the cult which Toni’s late mom and Ann Dowd were in together. Presumably the cult left the signs and words scratched onto walls and posts, but there’s no way the cult arranged the little sister’s complicated death (Alex swerves to avoid a dead thing in the road just as she sticks her head out the window, gasping for air because of an allergic reaction, and is beheaded by a telephone pole), and the cult’s final assault on the family makes Toni’s sleepwalk-firestarting and miscarriage attempts and other psychological eccentricities feel like false leads. I’m not extremely clear how the title factors in, since each of the family women seems to have her own unique set of problems, unless they’ve “inherited” the attention from the late gramma’s cult. I turned to letterboxd for answers and instead found Mike D’Angelo calling it “frustratingly muddled,” so we’ll call it a solid debut with script problems.
Besides the dollhouses (actually they are Important Art Projects) and the phone pole, there’s the daughter scissoring the head off a dead bird, Byrne burning, dead relatives who are not dead, nudity and dug-up corpses in the attic, ants, Alex slamming his own face into his school desk Nightmare on Elm Street-style, and most horribly, a possessed Toni floating up in a corner merrily garroting herself to death. I thought someone on twitter saying this movie is derivative of Kill List would be a spoiler – it was not, but the shot in the trailer and promo stills of Toni watching a burning family member sure was.