Tuesday, 19 June 2018

On demand: "Tramps"

Were this 1995, informed parties would quite rightly be shouting writer-director Adam Leon's name from the rooftops as one of the brightest hopes for a new American cinema. Alas, the year is 2018, and things have changed. Leon's tremendously fresh 2012 debut Gimme the Loot - tagging alongside a pair of young graffiti artists as they wound their way through a New York afternoon - was modestly distributed, and too little seen; his follow-up Tramps has been folded into the rapidly expanding Netflix catalogue, which raises questions of just how emergent filmmakers are expected to get their work out there (and get it seen) at a moment where streaming services have far surpassed even glory-days Miramax in their spending power and reach.

Tramps - which might, for several reasons, bear the alternate title Got the Loot - shapes up as a crime movie with recognisable actors attached, but it's still the same kind of hangout movie Leon was making first time out, and very definitely still a New York movie. It does, however, move in appreciably different directions and circles, meandering from the inner city to its pricier suburban outer reaches, and replacing Gimme the Loot's larky misdemeanours with a shift into the realms of petty crime, with its capacity for bringing disparate souls together. Our heroes are the genial Danny (Callum Turner) and the harder-bitten Ellie (Grace Van Patten), a couple of kids paired up in the wake of a bag drop that goes awry: not a high-octane setpiece, this, rather a matter of eager-beaver Danny stepping onto a subway train a beat too soon.

What follows would be distinctive enough as the sunniest, least bloody crime movie in some time. The bag and its contents are perhaps inevitably no more than a MacGuffin, a means to a narrative end: with hours to kill before their next opportunity to hand it over, Danny and Ellie walk and talk, dodge the few authority figures headed their way, pick over their experiences, and bond in the attempt to set things right. (As the amateurish crime syndicate involved is fronted by nerdy comedian Mike Birbiglia, rather than, say, James Gandolfini, we sense they're in no immediate danger.) Were this 1995, you suspect Leon might well have been accused of riding the emergent Richard Linklater's coattails, but Linklater has proved himself such a versatile filmmaker over subsequent decades that there is surely room for a bright-eyed, attentive student to move in on his predecessor's sometime territory.

Tramps might still be considered a consolidation of what was going on in Gimme the Loot, evidently the work of someone making a similar movie with more money, and the prospect of wider distribution ahead. (It's the same process that, in the 1990s, took Robert Rodriguez from El Mariachi to Desperado and Kevin Smith from Clerks to Mallrats.) Turner (the Brit whose boyish handsomeness has carried him across the Atlantic) and Van Patten (who first registered as Adam Sandler's daughter in last year's Netflix hit The Meyerowitz Stories) are capable young actors who work well within the framework of naturalism Leon lays down - in the grand indie tradition, a lot of Tramps looks to have been shot on the hoof, requiring interactions with actual transit workers and passers-by - even if they can't quite match the uncoachable, possibly unrepeatable pop and fizz of Gimme the Loot's effervescent leads.

Still, as these two born underdogs wander towards a kind of resolution, both for the bag and themselves, the film around them emits a low-key, modest but undeniable charm. (Shot in 1.66:1 in homage to past endeavours, Tramps doesn't even deign to take up the whole of your screen if you do find yourself Netflixing it.) Towards the end of the movie, the bag's rightful owner (the terrific supporting actress Margaret Colin, seizing a moment, as ever) schools Ellie about the syndicate's plan in a few lines that strike the ear like an authorial statement, and a rebuke to the torturous mythologies of so much contemporary American cinema: "You know how some men are: the more intricate they make something, the more impressive they think it is."

Leon never stresses his plot points, preferring simply to ride around with them in his back pocket, but his careful writing and editorial nudging nevertheless succeeds in getting Danny and Ellie into a position where they're forced to make a choice between love and money, and equally the audience to a place where we hope they will make the right call. In our never more atomised, post-Weinstein landscape, it's a kick to cross paths with a filmmaker this unabashedly optimistic and romantic, and with a filmography so dedicated to cultivating and putting out good vibes, wherever and however we come to receive them. Leon might be an even more vital and valuable sensibility to have around now than he would have been twenty-odd years ago.

Tramps is available to stream via Netflix.

Monday, 18 June 2018

On demand: "Menashe"

Menashe - which slipped out theatrically in the dark days of December, and is now available to stream - is a 21st century indie that plays and feels like a late Eighties/early Nineties indie, and not just because it unfolds on the streets of New York, hotbed of the scene as it once was. Director Joshua Z. Weinstein (no relation to you-know-who) uses these 82 minutes to draw us right inside a world - or, more specifically yet, a world inside a world: that of the Yiddish-speaking Hasidic Jewish community stationed within the wider multiculturalism of Brooklyn's Borough Park neighbourhood. The title character (Menashe Lustig, a local resident retreading actual lived experience) is a heavy-set, balding widower who wears the beard but not the hat or the coat, and can more often be seen carrying a cellphone than the Torah; he works as a cashier in a cramped minimart, where his non-canonical views rub up against those of his more Orthodox fellow travellers, and his shelf-stacking Latino co-workers refer to him, with obvious affection, as "Gordito", the fat one.

In general, though, this is a fellow so unprepossessing that even his own cousin fails to recognise him when he calls on the phone at one point; overlooked (despite his girth) and undervalued, Menashe is - as characterised here - something like a kosher version of Ernest Borgnine's Marty, or the urban equivalent of Pruitt Taylor Vince's lovelorn short order cook in 1995's Heavy. Perhaps the one thing he has going for him is the fact he is the father to a son, Rieven (Ruben Niborski), on whom he plainly dotes - although he has to do this only sporadically and from afar, the lad having been raised (as tradition dictates) by a married brother-in-law after the kid's mother passed. Sloppy, slovenly, barely at ease with the world going on around him, Menashe is not the most obvious of father figures - we watch him huffing and puffing to drop the kid off, late, at school one morning - but the thought presents itself: what if this boy was the catalyst his father needs to pull himself together?

Put it like that, and Weinstein's film risks sounding like the varyingly sickly product emitted by Touchstone Pictures throughout the Nineties, a sort of One Mensch and a Baby. (It does, unexpectedly, boast an executive producer credit for no less a figure than Home Alone director Chris Columbus.) Yet its protagonist comes to shape up in directions that prove far more haphazard - more truthful - than any simplistic crowdpleaser would allow for. Its big themes (big religious themes, we should note: duty, responsibility, charity) are revealed not by schematic plotting and writing, but glimpsed through a broadly naturalistic framework: Weinstein, who comes to fiction filmmaking having trained in documentary, fashions resonant, telltale setpieces out of acts as everyday as father and son hanging a picture to a wall - a sign that our protagonist's house (and mindset) is returning to order - and eventually succeeds in getting us utterly caught up in the preparations for a memorial meal. (Truly, you will never in your lifetime have been so invested in the fate of a kugel.)

The results form a small miracle, a faith movie that exists without the usual deafening fanfares and judgements from on high; a film that takes its characters' beliefs seriously, but also seeks to set them against the real world of traffic, beggars and poky one-room apartments, the better to spot where there might be room to grow and improve, or simply let a little God-given fresh air in. Yoni Brook's spontaneous cinematography, alert to both the rituals and the space and movement around them, aids Weinstein's cause no end, as does a sparse score (by Aaron Martin and Dag Rosenqvist) that helps shape and focus these quietly attentive images. The performers occupying them, non-professionals cast to represent points along the scale of orthodoxy, seem both entirely of this world and increasingly recognisable. It was a masterstroke, for one, to have the whole thing revolve around Lustig, a galumphing, bearlike presence, yet a very moving one in the final reel when, eyes lowered, he tries to articulate deep-seated feelings he's spent the whole movie gulping down. You just hope Weinstein doesn't get marked down as a niche filmmaker: here's someone with much to say himself on the subjects of modernity and tradition, working from a wellspring of curiosity and understanding we might well need going forwards.

Menashe is available to stream via Curzon Home Cinema and the BFI. 

Sunday, 17 June 2018

From the archive: "All Is Lost"

The American writer-director J.C. Chandor is fascinated by crisis management. This keenest of interests was first revealed in last year’s classy Margin Call, which charted the behind-the-scenes manoeuvrings at a Manhattan brokerage firm as news of its misdemeanours went public. Now Chandor pursues the theme into more abstract waters with All is Lost, a tautly sustained parable that invites reading as another take on our current economic turbulence, or a secular riposte to last year’s big Christmas hit Life of Pi, or simply as what it appears to be: the tale of an ordinary man enduring the worst week of his life.

The man remains nameless (the credits bill him as “Our Man”), but he’s immediately recognisable as Robert Redford, that totemic figure of white liberal America. When we first see him, he’s snoozing below decks on a yacht bobbing comfortably along in isolation on the waters of the Sumatran straits – until it’s struck by an errant cargo container, possibly of Asian origin, holding a payload of cheap trainers. Assess the situation as you will.

The collision breaches the hull, causing the boat to take on water at an alarming rate – and thereafter Chandor displays a commendable faith in the notion that watching this man making repairs to his stricken vessel (tinkering with a fritzing radio, pumping out the water pooling below deck) will be enough to stick us to our seats.

The recent Gravity was acclaimed for its pared-down approach, but that far flashier experience sought to impress and immerse the viewer from its very first rotations. All is Lost, workmanlike in the best sense, builds gradually, with not much more at its disposal than Redford and the elements. Yet the two films’ effects aren’t dissimilar. Steve Boeddeker’s sound design allows us to hear and feel a storm blowing in from some distance; when it hits, we’re left in no doubt as to what it is to be struck by a wave, and left clinging on for dear life.

For, yes, this is another of those late 2013 endurance tests that have forced famous faces – like the rest of us – to work that much harder for their money. After several years in which Redford looked to be coasting, both before and behind the camera, it’s stirring to see him properly exercised – in part because there’s so little else occupying the frame. The actor still has the intelligence to persuade us he’d be able to improvise some way out of his troubles, but also to suggest that this generally capable man is equally smart enough to realise he’s in serious trouble, and that he might not have the resources to stem the tide.

You could say this mainstream minimalism is nothing more than a reaction to the bloated spectacles prevalent elsewhere these days, and that it’s not without its own problems. Just as some viewed Gravity as no more than a series of beautifully orchestrated close shaves, there will surely be those who cavil at All is Lost’s jettisoning of context and exposition.

But then again: Chandor’s ruthless approach fixes Gravity’s issues with consoling spectres and backstory; Redford’s mid-film F-bomb arguably conveys everything we need to know about the sailor’s mindset; and maybe, just maybe, context and exposition are among the first luxuries washed away in a scenario like this – that it doesn’t matter who you are, or where you’re coming from, when you’re facing the deluge in a boat tossed and turned such that the floor is now the ceiling. All is Lost inhabits the moment – our moment – and does so in ways very few films released this year have.

(MovieMail, December 2013)

All is Lost screens on Channel 4 tonight at midnight.

Friday, 15 June 2018

For what it's worth...

Top Ten Films at the UK Box Office 
for the weekend of June 8-10, 2018:

1 (new) Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (12A) ***

2 (1) Solo: a Star Wars Story (12A) ***
3 (2Deadpool 2 (15) **
4 (5) Book Club (12A)
5 (3Avengers: Infinity War (12A) ***
6 (4) Sherlock Gnomes (U) **
7 (8) Blade Runner: The Final Cut (15) ****
8 (6Show Dogs (PG) *
9 (new) Kaala (12A)
10 (new) McQueen (15)

(source: theguardian.com)

My top five: 
1. The Piano [above]

2. All the Wild Horses
3. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
4. Veere Di Wedding
5. Pandora's Box

Top Ten DVD sales: 

1 (new) Darkest Hour (PG) **
2 (1) The Greatest Showman (PG)
3 (new) Den of Thieves (15) **
4 (2) Early Man (PG)
5 (3) Coco (PG) ***
6 (new) Journey's End (12) ***
7 (5) Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (12)
8 (new) Bobby Robson: More Than a Manager (12)
9 (4) Maze Runner: The Death Cure (12)
10 (21) Dunkirk (12) ***

(source: officialcharts.com)

My top five: 
1. 120 Beats Per Minute

2. The Wound
3. Loveless
4. Journey's End
5. The Mercy

Top five films on terrestrial TV this week:
1. Sexy Beast (Friday, C4, 12.10am)
2. All is Lost (Sunday, C4, 12midnight)
3. Begin Again (Sunday, BBC2, 10.50pm)
4. Mad Max (Friday, ITV, 11.45pm)
5. The Green Hornet (Saturday, five, 3.10am)

Footnotes: "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom"

All anybody can now remember about Jurassic World - a billion-dollar megahit as recently as 2015 - is Bryce Dallas Howard in incongruous high heels. That was it: two hours of much-ballyhooed multiplex content squandering a budget of $150m on wall-to-wall visual effects and setpiece after setpiece, and the only thing that lodged in the mind for any length of time was the impracticality of the female lead's footwear choices. Could there be any greater sign of how rapidly our bigger movies recede and dwindle in the imagination? After a quarter-century of Jurassic sequels and ripoffs and reboots, computer-generated dinosaurs are no longer the wondrous anomalies they once were, but a movie commonplace, as familiar to 21st century multiplexgoers as the characters in the Ice Age franchise or TV's Peppa Pig. With the awe and wonder diminished or gone, all that was left for us to marvel at in Jurassic World was the sight of an especially dainty female representative of the homo sapiens genus somehow managing to outsprint a velociraptor while shod in Jimmy Choos.

Talking point that they were, the shoes are back in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom: indeed, Howard's dino-scholar Claire is even reintroduced feet first, a signal that incoming director J.A. Bayona (The Orphanage, A Monster Calls) has absorbed and understood some of the lessons of the big yet crashingly empty reboot. Although Fallen Kingdom does much to expand this franchise's scope - transporting characters and viewers alike from a Jurassic park to the prospect of the titular Jurassic world - it feels an appreciably smaller and better-managed movie than its vapid predecessor, peeling back Jurassic World's deadeningly mock-Crichtonian carapace of corporate intrigue (which always seemed like a flattering sop to those Universal suits charged with kickstarting this sleeping giant of a series), and operating a good deal closer to the roots and spirit of those man-versus-monster B-movies (The Lost World, King Kong) on which the early Jurassic films were raised.

What emerges qualifies for legitimate action-adventure status: it's no more or less than a yarn about a mission - undertaken by Claire and dino-handler Owen (Chris Pratt), underwritten by shady businessman Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) - to rescue those beasts left on Isla Nublar at the end of the reboot, and to do so before a massive volcano pops its top. Gone is that tedious, self-justifying mythology the series accumulated over successive sequels and rethinks; what's left behind is unmistakably lighter in weight, but also a movie that moves nevertheless, rerouting this franchise in an intriguing new direction, no matter what footwear its individual characters might be running in.

Seasoned blockbuster watchers might still be taken aback at how a PG-rated event movie from 1993 continues to stand as several gasps and shudders more visceral and terrifying than a 12A-rated work releasing in 2018. (These New Blockbusters - more often sketches than fully-formed pictures, dashed off to strike while a given commercial iron is hot - have underlined how the American mainstream cinema really hasn't moved on from Spielberg, an arrested development Spielberg himself seemed to acknowledge upon making the transition into prestige historical dramas. The movie brat grew up, even as the genre he did so much to define did not.) 

Fallen Kingdom has a handful of clever setpieces - a tranquillised Owen having to urge his benumbed body away from spreading sheets of lava, a sequence that locks the leads inside a shipping container with a dozing dino - but they're rushed through rather than lingered over for any duration. Where Spielberg would have terrorised us for a ten-minute stretch, Bayona whips us through inside five, partly because he knows there's something similar on its way - if this script is good for anything, it's as a moderate-peril delivery system - and partly out of a desire to bring everybody back to the mainland, and to the John Hammond Memorial Museum, where he can cast Geraldine Chaplin and more of his signature Gothic shadows.

This second hour actually goes beyond 1997's The Lost World: Jurassic Park in its efforts to domesticate the diplodocus, and after the altogether bleak thespwaste of the first reboot (poor Judy Greer), it's encouraging to see the series looking back towards Spielberg's more characterful original. Yes, it remains perverse that the reboots should have recruited Pratt, the era's pre-eminent bestubbled clown, just to hand him barely a twentieth of the so-so zingers he gets in his Guardians of the Galaxy outings. (My suspicion is that he's been cast for his ability to perform forward rolls in front of green screens, much as he used to vault over and around the sets of Parks and Recreation.)

Yet it's nice to have Jeff Goldblum and B.D. Wong back, however briefly, in their roles as concerned brainiac and fraught research scientist, and Fallen Kingdom generates the reboot's most memorable interspecies interactions to date: the breath of a T-Rex puffing up moneyman Toby Jones's Trump-blond hairpiece, macho hunter Ted Levine stepping over the line while seeking to extract a dino incisor for a trophy necklace, a pterodactyl picking up one of Spall's henchmen by his collar, and depositing him atop an SUV. (Here's a small measure of subtext for you: nature, properly red in tooth and claw, has the drop on capitalism every time.)

It's not the fault of the film but of an enduringly dysfunctional studio system that a multi-million-dollar summer tentpole release should in the end resemble the kind of straight-to-video sequel one might have troubled to check out of a Blockbuster around the turn of the millennium, and likely enjoyed with the right, reduced expectations. (Our event movies have long been no more than B-movies with an A+ budget; Bayona is just more honest about this than most.) Liberated from those expectations of what a post-Nolan, post-Marvel summer blockbuster is meant to be (long, self-involved, more of the previous thing), Fallen Kingdom nevertheless proves far livelier than its predecessor, niftily (if casually) assembled by a director enthusiastically admitting to and embracing what these reboots always were: brisk footnotes, at best.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is now playing in cinemas nationwide.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

On DVD: "The Wound"

Conventional movie wisdom has always said to give viewers - and male viewers in particular - something in the first five minutes that will turn them on: it'll catch the eye, quicken the pulse, and generally set the blood to running. The Wound, a bracing debut from writer-director John Trengove, will have men crossing their legs awkwardly for entirely different reasons. We open on a circumcision ritual as old as time and apparently still practised in certain rural areas of South Africa: a surgeon, demonstrating all the delicacy of the average army drill instructor, instructs a hastily convened group of young men to spread their thighs before whipping off their foreskins in one brisk and unlovely movement, stirring up the adrenaline in an attempt to usher his patients past any related physical pain ("You're a man now! You're a man!"). So begins a film of notable rummaging in the crotch area, that probes the softest, most vulnerable part of the male anatomy, and wonders how that thing down there might relate to the rest of us: our identity, our sense of pride.

Our hero is Xolani (Nakhane Touré), a factory worker in the city, returning to the countryside to serve as a caregiver in this ritual, applying balm and bandages to the areas affected in an attempt to right what went wrong during his own circumcision several years earlier, when his recovery period intersected with the arrival on campsite of a rabid dog. (Don't uncross those legs just yet.) When we first see him, Xolani is wearing the beanie and swaggering, no-fucks-given demeanour of a street tough, but subsequent observation reveals another side of his personality: he's (secretly) gay. In this, he's not alone - throughout the circumcision camp, we find him sneaking off for man-on-man sessions with fellow outsider Vija (Bongile Mantsai) - but he is, evidently, not the men the macho men around him would perhaps prefer and expect him to be. We glean as much from the way the father of one initiate, Kwanda (Niza Jay Ncoyini), worries that his son - a catalyst in what unfolds, opening up a rift between Xolani and Vija, and the possibility of change - has been wussified by his mother.

We've seen gay-themed coming-of-age dramas before, but rarely can they have looked and felt this primal. A long way - both geographically and figuratively - from the sunny suburbia of April's Love, Simon, The Wound is a film of men sitting round a campfire, faces painted, picking fights with symbolic sticks. The setting is a little like those New Age retreats the movies sporadically mocked through the Nineties and Noughties, but there is, clearly, more at stake here than bruised egos: Trengove leads us into a clearing where masculinity can be performed, antlers locked, and a degree of mastery - over one's true self, and others - can be demonstrated. If the circumcision ritual is specific to the Xhosa people - as specific, say, as the glottal clicking these characters break into whenever their conversations turn fraught - it will likely also translate for any audience that know that growing up isn't merely a matter of a simple snip here and there. These plains connect in some ways with those of Brokeback Mountain and the farmland of recent Brit hit God's Own Country: a site upon which nature is revealed, and a place of such isolation that only a fool would deny or suppress their attractions. What's the point of a two-man tent, if you've nobody to share it with?

Trengove's direction proves deceptively quiet and slight: here is the very opposite of those loud, willy-waggling Major Movie Statements on Masculinity our male-skewed entertainment industry has enabled through the years. For the first half-hour or so, this filmmaker seems perhaps a little too beholden to that Dardennesian device of fixing the camera to the neck and shoulders of a character as they journey, in all senses of the word, from here to there; and the sensitivity is such that a few notes of editorialising dropped into the penultimate scene clang like dropped cowbells. (After eighty minutes of study this attentive, we don't need one character to suddenly ask "What's the purpose of a dick, anyway?") For the most part, though, The Wound retains an impressive confidence in the ability of its landscape and the complexity of its conflicted characters to draw us in and keep us engaged. Paul Özgür's eloquent, crepuscular cinematography, forever locating these young men in some wider transitional moment, recalls another, more celebrated recent drama of black masculinity, against which Trengove's film amply holds its own: Moonlight.

The Wound is available on DVD through Peccadillo from Monday.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Blank mirror: "Hereditary"

Hereditary arrives on our screens trailing two things of significance: loud critical hosannas proclaiming it "the scariest film in years" - a perilously subjective index at a time when everything from the prospect of global nuclear annihilation to the sight of James Corden's face prompts mass panic - and a D+ CinemaScore grade that suggests paying audiences, even those audiences who flocked to April's A Quiet Place (a CinemaScore B+), have been a good deal less enthused. It may be the critic's job, at this late stage in the marketing campaign, to try and understand both points of view, the better to grasp the truth that surely resides somewhere between the two extremes.

Ari Aster's feature debut opens on a household that appears off-centre even before the passing of a grandmother sets everybody to making funeral arrangements. The deceased's daughter Annie (Toni Collette) is an artist who fashions scale models of scenes from her own life; she has a daughter (Milly Shapiro) who looks little shy of 106 years old, possibly as a result of the nut allergy that has swelled and distorted her features, and a stay-at-home son (Alex Wolff) who's apparently still in school despite seeming scarcely much younger than that. Their home, meanwhile, is awash with creepy signs and signifiers: part of a pentagram on a bedroom floor, a necklace that elicits gargoyle grins from pallid strangers at granny's funeral, an infernal Velux window in the treehouse standing at the foot of the family's garden. This is not a horror film with a sure feel for what is normal, humdrum, everyday, and its shaky baseline of reality immediately gives the lie to all those Exorcist comparison its PRs have been delightedly hoovering up. Every rib-nudging detail of Hereditary's first act has been designed to whisper uh-oh in the audience's ears; it would be a good deal more surprising if bad things didn't subsequently befall Aster's characters.

What my more excitable colleagues look to have been responding to is the emergence of a filmmaker making a painfully self-conscious effort to transfigure horror into something comparable to the art the Collette character deals in. A brooding sound wash and dim lighting are the first signs we're meant to take Hereditary ever so seriously, and Aster has equally availed himself of a cast capable of elevating those stretches of his material that fall between pulpy and silly. To witness Collette's monologue at the bereavement support group Annie reluctantly attends is to be aware one is in the presence of a real actor, rather than one of those makeshift dayplayers who have typically populated our B-features: rarely can a performer have strummed so much variation from two tightly pursed lips. Gabriel Byrne, in the generally underwritten part of Annie's husband Steve, does enough in his own right to sketch a man semi-stunned by the heinous misfortune assailing his family, and resolving to keep his own head down, lest something dreadful happen to him. 

That performance gestures towards some wider cosmological worldview, but over its two-plus hours, Hereditary doesn't really develop one of its own, or indeed much in the way of narrative logic. Instead, the film plays as a series of unfortunate events, separated by ellipses and evasions that struck this viewer as plain dishonest. Aster cuts directly from a car accident caused by one family member to the funeral it results in, completely eliding the awkward interfamilial conversations that would surely have broken out between the two points; some of the tensions this death provokes will emerge later in a sequence of dinner-table bawling (strangely reminiscent of American Beauty), but it's real acting in entirely the wrong place. A Quiet Place, the work of a father in his late thirties, got the effects it did partly from its informed study of the ways group dynamics change in the wake of disaster; Aster's film, conversely, is too busy shooting for doomy mood, creepy-crawly sensation, and a self-reflexivity that marks it as entirely the work of a recent film-school graduate: rooms that feel like maquettes (and vice versa), seances as setpieces, literal and cinematic graverobbing. For all its strain and pretence, it winds up holding precisely zero insight into the human condition, which would surely be a prerequisite of the art Aster is pushing so hard towards, and even on a mechanical level, Hereditary seemed pretty flimsy to me.

Aster just can't elevate the ouija boards and demonic possession business made cheap and commonplace by teen-skewed horror fare, and that weakness is compounded by what I refer to as the Paranormal Activity flaw: dunderheaded characters who refuse to move out or into a hotel once it's become flagrantly clear their home is the site of malevolent supernatural events. This is a film that requires viewers to forget about the existence of the police or mobile phones in order for its action to seem in any way credible, let alone scary; without that credulity, we're just plodding along towards a last-reel descent not into hell, but bad student-installation nonsense. An ironic closing-credits song blows what remains of Aster's cover: here is yet another posturing post-Tarantino charlatan, busy whipping up hype to hide the fact they have nothing very much to say. All movies, to some degree, are con jobs, and horror movies - leading us down blind alleys to spook us and pick our pockets - possibly more than most, but the best can sometimes trick us into seeing reflections of our true selves. I can understand how amid the excitement of the festival circuit, viewers made jittery by a combination of too much alcohol and too little sleep might proclaim Hereditary as an earthshaking experience. If I were in the business of copywriting, however, I might also label this terribly self-serious hokum "the slowest horror movie in years" and "effortfully gloomy", although I'm aware neither would sell quite as many tickets.

Hereditary opens in cinemas nationwide tomorrow.