A film this scary, imaginative and fundamentally disturbing doesn’t come along often. All too often horror films rely on repetitive tropes that can be reassuring rather than frightening. Not Hereditary. We’re in Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist territory here.
In a picturesque mountain town, a family is torn apart by grief. Annie (Toni Collette) is an artist who fills the family home with miniature sculptures reflecting difficult events throughout her life, most recently the death of her mother. Her husband (Gabriel Byrne) struggles to cope with Annie’s bouts of mental illness. But has Annie’s mother really gone, or does something of her remain inside her shy granddaughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro)?
The scares come, initially at least, from the ordinary: grief, coincidence and the effects of trauma. There are moments designed to make you jump, but they’re just one aspect of tension that doesn’t let up for the entire film, and the distress that lingers for hours afterward. Collette puts in a career-highlight performance. This is the horror film of the year.
Hereditary is screening at cinemas everywhere. Watch the trailer
My Friend Dahmer
In 1991 Jeffrey Dahmer was charged with 17 murders, many of which involved necrophilia and cannibalism. It’s grisly stuff. My Friend Dahmer is set in 1980s Milwaukee before any of that, during Dahmer’s childhood. Teenage Dahmer (Ross Lynch) is a kid with portentously disturbing habits – the kind of guy who fakes fits in class for attention and collects road kill in his spare time. When a group of misfits adopt him, it appears he may have a chance at a social life.
Based on a graphic novel by Dahmer’s high school classmate John Backderf, the film is a portrait of an isolated teenager as seen through the eyes of his peers. Its true-story status makes it fascinating at times, but no new ground is broken. Overall, it’s a perversely entertaining watch, and Lynch is perfectly chilling as the killer-in-training.
My Friend Dahmer is playing at Dendy Newtown. Watch the trailer
A uniformed man turns up on the doorstep of a middle-aged couple’s home with news that their son has been killed in action. The realism of this opening scene only hints at the range of this warm, unpredictable Israeli film by director Samuel Maoz.
Set partly in a Tel Aviv apartment and partly at an isolated military checkpoint in the desert, Maoz juxtaposes the absurdity and monotony of military procedure against the civilian lives affected by war. Lior Ashkenazi, Sarah Adler and Yonaton Shiray play the family at the heart of the film, railing against their confined lives and fates with passion and humour.
Foxtrot is playing from June 21 at Palace Cinemas. Watch the trailer
BPM (Beats Per Minute)
It’s Paris in the early ’90s, and activist group Act Up-Paris is hitting schools, pharmaceutical companies and politicians with anger and gravity, aiming to raise awareness of the AIDS epidemic and promote prevention measures. Many are AIDS sufferers, and they’re waging a war against indifference to the disease.
Plenty has been said about the AIDS crisis – BPM captures the spirit of the people caught in the middle. Director Robin Campillo’s film is an intense experience; frank, personal, tender and erotic. An urgency courses through the film as it moves from splatters of fake blood at a protest, to encounters in a darkened bedroom highlighting the reality of living with the illness.
BPM is playing at Dendy Newtown. Watch the trailer
The Wicker Man (1973)
An extremely conservative Christian policeman (Edward Woodward) is sent to a remote Scottish island to investigate the disappearance of a teenage girl. But he’s obstructed at every turn by the sexually liberated pagan islanders (including Christopher Lee, Ingrid Pitt and Britt Ekland), whose fertility rituals offend his virginal purity.
The Wicker Man (not to be confused with the appalling Nicolas Cage remake) is one of the great cult horror films. It can be a kitschy watch, if that’s what you’re after, but underneath the ridiculousness it’s quite moving, and creepy. And with its building paranoia and witchcraft undertones, it’s a perfect antidote to the terror of Hereditary. The soundtrack, by Paul Giovanni, is largely comprised of pagan folk songs about fertility, many of which are performed by the cast in the film – so, I suppose, it’s a musical as well.
Before its original release the film was butchered by producers, and a lot of footage was destroyed. Over the years, cut scenes have been slowly reinstated, and director Robin Hardy stands by this latest restoration of the film as the definitive one.
The Wicker Man is screening at Golden Age on June 22. Watch the trailer