Hereditary

The only horror movie subgenre routinely lauded by critics is the supernatural one, which puts the writers of this site at a distinct disadvantage: we don’t care for it.

Supernatural horrors (like Hereditary, to a certain extent) are punch-pullers, which downshift gory elements to get teen bums in seats and bypass R-ratings.

With a dearth of deaths, and absent the uber-violence of other genres, supernatural thrillers are like a guitar missing its E-strings: they are limited in the extent with which they can compose a full melody, and create broader frights.

Hereditary, (much like ghostly genre standout The Changeling), to its credit depicts a jarring death to kick things into gear and to haunt the living.

Annie, an early-round exit from the Mother of the Year tournament, lets her 13-year-old daughter, Charlie go to a house party with her older, stoner old son, Peter. Charlie gets a food allergy and a wigged out Peter guns it in his parents’ car, hoping to get his sister to a hospital as anaphylactic shock sets in, and kills her in the process.

Charlie is posthumously haunting the home’s inhabitants, with Annie second guessing her judgement (and with good reason: any parent with a lick of sense would notice Peter’s bloodshot Eeyore visage).

From there, guilt wracks the mother-son dynamic, with a helpless psychiatrist patriarch, Stephen, helplessly looking on (played by Gabriel Byrne) as Annie’s mother passes away too and her grave is desecrated.

This is bitter, unflinching, dynamite stuff, which doesn’t even need an actual haunting when the characters are so metaphorically haunted by Charlie’s passing.

Unfortunately, Hereditary’s pacing suffers, and debut director Ari Aster doesn’t put his foot on the gas after the near-vehicular manslaughter leaving a noticeable sag in the middle (this is a 127-minute run-time)

Annie (Toni Collette) is a miniature artist, and this is used to maximum effect in Hereditary very quirky and arresting opener. However, with each successive pass this becomes more and more precious and affected as she buries herself in her craft to escape.

Still, the good outweighs the bad, and the ending’s super fun too.

***1/4 (out of 5)

Pieces

Although clearly Europe, the purportedly Boston-set slasher, Pieces, does take the viewer to another place entirely.

(For 80s gore-heads, Bean Town is the setting for the fairly pedestrian slasher, Night School, filmed in the city’s Beacon Hill neighbourhood).

Like other slasher masterpieces from the era, Pieces whets appetites with a delicious prologue and a nudie puzzle-obsessed kid who wastes his mommy all in the first five minutes.

When the authorities arrive, no need for any further forensic investigation, as they just take the word of the child.

Fast forward into adulthood with the nature-nurture problem solved, and Timmy is back to his murderin’ ways, attacking coeds on a campus in a string of set pieces that are more bush than Ivy league.

Pieces then lives up to (or down to) its name depending on one’s perspective, with a couple of whiz-bang gruesome chainsaw killings, and a Red Herring in the form of a leering, cross-eyed college groundskeeper, Willard (such is the level of sedateness / quietude at this particular institute of higher learning that the school’s Dean himself, rather than an underling, is responsible for hiring the gardener and negotiating his contract!)

The real hilarity ensues when genre stalwart Christopher George (City of the Living Dead/Grizzly/Graduation Day) wanders in as law enforcement, with an oft-repeated gag about him needing a cigarette lighter that is as dead in the water as this pic’s vics. Rather than put out a notice to the study body that there are student bodies piling up, he hatches a plan to have one of his colleagues go undercover as a varsity tennis coach! (played by Linda Day, real-life missus to Mr. George).

Suffice it to say, there’s a lot to “love” about the embarrassing strokes (the cast members weren’t quite adept at racket sports). The crowd’s reaction to the matches, and women who the Williams sisters could best with just their backhands, is priceless.

Still, as some wag on Instagram put it, this is the finest Italian, Spanish, Puerto Rican production they’d ever seen! A total blast.

*** (out of 5)