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Posts Tagged ‘Alex Wolff’

Toni Collette

“HEREDITARY” My rating: B 

127 minutes | MPAA rating: R

No one expects world-class acting from a horror movie. So when you get precisely that, it comes on like a sucker punch.

“Hereditary” is a ghost story — I think — featuring Toni Collette in an emotional performance that will leave audiences limp and exhausted.

Writer/director  Ari Aster’s film is hard to pin down…it may be about ghosts, or it may be a psychological study of mental and spiritual anguish manifesting in very creepy ways.

As the film begins Annie Graham (Collette) is burying her mother, from whom she was estranged for years before finally taking in the old lady at death’s door. Annie isn’t sure whether to react with sobs or cartwheels…Mom was a notoriously difficult personality.  (In her eulogy, Annie says she’s gratified to see so many new faces…she didn’t know this many people cared about her mother. It’s the film’s first subtle clue that Mom had a secret life.)

In the wake of the funeral Annie and her family try to get back to normal.  Husband Steve  (Gabriel Byrne) is an understanding intellectual type. Son Peter (Alex Wolff) is a teen pothead. Daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) is something else again, an elfin misfit who, unlike other members of the family, really loved her grandma. In fact, she starts seeing apparitions of the dear departed.

One cannot say much about the plot of “Heredity” without ruining some major surprises.  Let’s just say that Grandma’s death is only the first tragedy to befall the clan; a far more traumatic one is yet to come.

And in the wake of that an emotionally shattered Annie finds herself turning first to a grief support group and then to a fellow mourner (the great Ann Dowd) who claims to have found a way to communicate with the dead.

Aster plays his cards very carefully,  dealing big plot points so matter of factly that it’s only in retrospect that we understand their importance.  There’s no big reveal until the end (and even then it’s a bit ambiguous); mostly he builds a nerve-wracking tension from small moments and observations. (Although there is a dramatic seance scene guaranteed to make every hair on your body stand up and salute.)

(more…)

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Ross Lynch (center) as future serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer

“MY FRIEND DAHMER”  My rating: B

107 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Right off the bat, the title “My Friend Dahmer” puts potential audiences on edge.

After all, Jeffrey Dahmer was one of our more notorious serial killers of the last 50 years. Between 1978 and 1991 he murdered 17 men and boys, often preserving their bones and feasting on their flesh. He was beaten to death in prison in 1994.

The obvious question: What’s the take of writer/director Marc Meyers’ film?  Is it a blood-soaked bit of gross-out exploitation? A black comedy?

In truth “My Friend Dahmer” is a smart, insightful and disturbing study of the killer’s high school years.  Based on the graphic novel by John Backderf, Dahmer’s classmate and one of the few who paid the dead-eyed loner any attention, it’s both creepy and sad.

From almost the first frame of this film we understand that Jeff, played by Disney discovery Ross Lynch (“Austin & Ally,” “Teen Beach Movie”), has issues. In a shack in the woods behind his family’s semi-rural Ohio home he keeps jars in which dead  animals are slowly dissolving in acid solution. He always keeps a black plastic garbage bag in his pocket, lest he stumble across an intriguing bit of road kill.

“I like bones,” he explains. “It interests me — what’s inside.”

Gawky and outwardly unemotional, Jeff is a target for school bullies. Not that things are much better at home.

Mom (Anne Heche) is a former mental patient who lives life in just two speeds: fetal and combative. Her depression and raw emotions prove unbearable to her decent but  ineffectual husband (Dallas Roberts). At least Jeff’s father, himself the victim of a solitary  childhood, recognizes his oldest son’s plight and urges the kid to try to fit in.

Jeff’s plan to win his classmates’ attention is typically bizarre and tone-deaf.  He begins staging fake epileptic fits in the school hallways. His arm-flapping, screeching antics draw the attention of John Backderf (Alex Wolff) and a small coterie of social outsiders who adopt Jeff as their mascot.

“I think with you as our fearless leader we can really disrupt this school,” John tells Jeff.

“Let’s do a Dahmer,”  becomes their rebellious battle cry before each new example of perverse performance art. (more…)

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