Writer-director Ari Aster’s debut feature is not coy about its intentions: it opens on an obituary and then gives us mourning(?) daughter Toni Collette at her mother’s funeral, noting all the strange new faces present and also, oh yes, Mom’s “secret rituals.” (Some mention should be made of Collette’s go-for-broke performance here as a woman processing her pain by recreating it in miniature, her face continually contorting under the triple strain of grief, horror, and mental overload.) Rather, having announced itself, it works as a bravura technical exercise in the slow reveal — on both the micro and macro levels. Cameras are forever following terrified gazes to the source of the terror, and revelation builds on revelation until an awful culmination begins to seem inevitable. But “awful” should not be confused with “astonishing.” Sometimes, the banality of evil is the point: the transcendent lengths to which people will go to achieve their mundane ends. And “technical” should not be confused with “clinical” or “unfeeling” — because the gradual accumulation of sorrow and dread is integral to the technique.
Length: 2 hours, 6 minutes