This is not a fun scary movie. It is a brutally intense tour through some of the ugliest emotional places a family can go. It deals with grief and loss and blame in a very serious family drama that descends into the most horrific realms of terror imaginable.

The story concerns the Graham family. Annie’s mother has recently passed away, and the remaining family members are all coping in different ways. I won’t give away anything more than that here. I went into this movie blind, and I think that’s the right way to experience it.

Annie is played by Toni Collette in one of the best performances in any horror film. She is so good in this movie it is almost unreal. She sweeps us up in her journey. She had a deeply complicated relationship with her mother. They were at odds for most of her life, and now that she’s gone the grief is deeply complicated as well. Collette brilliantly conveys these buried grievances and complete feeling with well chosen vocal inflections and perfectly placed pauses. As new grief and new trauma compounds in Annie’s life, Collette creates a portrait of a woman seemingly losing her grip on reality. The emotional places she goes to in this movie are unreal. It’s herculean emotions she pulling off here.

The film is deftly shot. The cinematography here is truly spectacular. It is so precisely framed that there is never any doubt that the director is in complete control of what we see and when. It’s comforting to know we’re in good hands. It’s also comforting to know we’re watching something that has been well thought out. There is a reoccurring motif of miniatures and models. Annie builds little miniature tableaus depicting her life. The film opens with a trippy and seamless shot in which the action seems to be taking place inside a miniature. It’s just great filmmaking that requires a precise touch and expert planning. Peppering themes and motifs throughout the film with simple visual cues. It enriches the movie to a great degree.

There is one sequence at the 30 minute mark that is so horrible I won’t describe it. It starts with a payoff that got setup in the early moments of the film, and the tension builds and mounts to a fever pitch. Suddenly, we are in a tsunami of tension as things escalate. Then it all comes crashing down. From this point, there is a four minute sequence of total silence that is one of the most excruciatingly tense bits I’ve seen in a movie. The dread mounts. The tension ratchets up with every passing second. Four minutes of silence that are unforgettable and caused a physical reaction in me as I gripped the edge of the sofa. Everything comes together in this sequence. Great performances. Twisted writing. Brilliant cinematography. And direction that plays the audience like a conductor plays the orchestra.

I should hate this movie. We’re going to get into spoilers territory, so avert your eyes. The movie ends on a down note. It is a very bleak ending. It implies that the characters had no choice in their fates. These characters were always pawns in a game much larger than themselves. I hate bleak nihilistic endings. I hate when a film offers no hope, yet this movie works for me. The reason I think it works is that the bleak ending is not inevitable. The characters do make choices, it’s just that they are in such a bad place emotionally that it feels to them and us like the only choice. When we enter those states of deep emotional trauma we lose sight of what’s important. This movie is just a reminder of how bad things can get when we get lost in our own problems and forget to reach out to those around us.

This movie scared me. There are a couple of moments where a shape lurking in the shadows creates a bigger jump than a million cats jumping out of a million closets ever could.

This movie is gruesome. There is a moment toward the end that is one of the most horrifically bloody things I’ve seen.

This movie is deeply emotional. It really could play as a straight up family drama. A nighttime confession between mother and son is more tense and horrifying than most of the scary movies I’ve seen this month.

It might be unsatisfying for people. It does not exactly have a happy ending. It drags us through some dark emotions. It exposes the cracks in family that we all hope don’t really exist.

I was really affected by it. I don’t know that I love it. It’s not one I could watch every day or even every year. Because of the traumatic places it goes, it’s not exactly a fun spooky Halloween movie. It’s more a hard hitting horror experience. I definitely recommend it for its impeccable quality, its unsettling scares, and the stellar performance from Toni Collette. It’s my cup of tea. A+

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