The film tells the story of a dysfunctional family, revolving around a frustrated miniature artist named Annie (Toni Collette). At the beginning of the movie, Annie grieves her mother’s death. They were estranged until her mother started suffering from dementia. Annie’s not overwrought by the death but experiences spooks while in her workshop one night.

Her loved ones surround her without being emotionally present. Her son Peter (Alex Wolff) simply wants to fit in at school and is convinced that his mother dislikes him. Hailing from the legacy of creepy horror movie kids, her daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro), who had been close to her late grandma, is somewhat…disturbed, fashioning dolls out of trash and dead birds. Meanwhile, her husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) tries his best to keep his family together. Another tragedy soon strikes, which more or less tears Annie’s loved ones apart. (My question is, does no one think of asking for an EpiPen or keeping spare ones around?) The stages of grief, as the film would have it, include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and, of course, demonic possession.

The sound and visual designs in this project fascinate me. While the film didn’t scare me per se, it left me feeling sick to my stomach. During its tensest moments, we hear faint thumping sounds, as though our hearts were beating along to the movie (and they probably were). There’s also distance between those who are experiencing the film and those inside of the film. At times, the characters sound echo-y and far away while we hear ingratiating fly buzzes and unsettling footsteps coming closer and closer to us. And the movie’s jump scares aren’t so much cheap, dime a dozen jump scares as much as slow burns that leave you with a general uneasiness for most of the scene, even after the worst has happened.

Visually, the film is shot on digital, but there must have been post-processing magic that gives you the same glowy, grainy texture of film. This made gory moments (lots of headless bodies, just FYI) feel even creepier than they already were. In terms of set design, Aster draws parallels between Annie’s dollhouses and the actual house, which becomes a trap for the characters who, like dolls, are being controlled by an ominous higher being. The cinematographers employ many high angle shots, which instill the viewer with an unsettling sense of voyeurism and helplessness as they witness horrible things happen over and over again to the characters.

I also love Toni Colette and Ann Dowd in Hereditary. Toni Colette films have been one of the reasons why I love movies so much. Little Miss Sunshine and About a Boy introduced me to a world of cinema that was optimistic, kind, and utterly unpretentious. (This film is the opposite, but, you know, still love Colette.) Ann Dowd, on the flip side, has taken my breath away each week in her role as Aunt Lydia in the unsettling dystopian Hulu series, The Handmaid’s Tale. Both Colette and Dowd stand out in this film. Colette has the strongest moments in the film (up to the frustrating third act), which range from her aching confession in grief group therapy to her hysteria upon learning what happens to her daughter. Dowd’s character felt most believable to me…until she became a device for the convoluted demonic possession plot. Her character, a bereft woman in Annie’s group therapy who lost her son and grandson, felt warm, genuine, sincere. I would have liked to see this relationship further fleshed out. Really, her character’s backstory fleshed out.

Hereditary is an interesting tale, potentially about mental health or misogyny or family dysfunction. The themes of the film never fully congealed for me, though perhaps that’s what Aster was going for. Still, it’s possible to raise questions in a movie while still delimiting its themes. That’s not to say that different themes can’t emerge for different peopleit would just be nice if it had a general sense of direction and a tighter message. On that note about themes, many horror films are ultimately tied to the process of grief somehow, like Get Out or The Babadook. Those films devote time to flesh out their protagonists and their relationships with their family (slash society). In Get Out, it is Chris’ relationship with his mother. In The Babadook, it is the bereaving Amelia’s with her precocious son. In Hereditary, it’s Annie’s with her mother and daughter.

But we don’t know much about those relationships, other than that they’re strained. This movie doles out context with restraint, predominantly absorbing audiences with its striking visual language and allegorical flourishes. When it provides context, it does so in bursts. All of the relevant information with regards to family history and demonic possession got crammed into the third act, which felt unnecessarily overwhelming.

Ultimately, I enjoyed Hereditary. It’s a very experiential film tied to allegory and lore, which are cleverly externalized through telling shots, body horror visuals, and creepy sounds. That saidand I recognize that this may be a personal preferenceits lofty allegories could have benefited from more coagulation–more character development, exposition, perhaps even a driving theme.



Little Fires Everywhere

Besides watching movies, I also love curling up with a good book. This year, my Goodreads goal is 50 books. I’m a little over 40% of the way there, mostly thanks to many technically heavy books on marketing, filmmaking, and story structure. That said, there’s truly nothing more pleasurable than great fiction storytelling. Just like in my favorite movies, my most loved books are character-driven. Before plot or style, I need strong, memorable characters. This weekend, I finished Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere. If you’re a pop culture nerd like yours truly, you’ll know that the upcoming Hulu miniseries adaptation stars and is produced by the unbelievably talented Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon.

Celeste Ng’s writing style reminds me of that of one of my favorite authors—Marilynne Robinson. There’s this unassuming quietude to it that builds into a force of authority over the course of the novel. Ng crafts a story about a free-spirited artist named Mia who moves into a ritzy progressive suburban neighborhood in Shaker Heights with her daughter Pearl, renting from the Richardsons, an affluent, educated family whose three children become entranced by their new tenants. The Richardson matriarch, Elena Richardson, has reservations about the pair. This lingering skepticism becomes exacerbated by a bitter legal custody battle for a Chinese baby, whose birth mother left her at a fire station but now wants to take her back as she is being fostered by Elena’s best friend.

Ng writes in an omniscient third person point-of-view that allocates each character a even slice of book. And while no one character dominates the narrative, we get to see them each so fully.  The novel as a whole forces the reader to think about race, class, and privilege, yes—but never in a heavy-handed way. It’s a book about women who aren’t bound by the constrictions of the Strong Female Character. The women often have strong feelings and attitudes about what motherhood means, but they’re allowed to make mistakes and say the wrong things. Elena Richardson is prying and haughty, but strong-willed and protective. Lexie is vain and selfish, but cunning and decisive. Mia is gentle and kind, but not completely innocent from questionable decisions.

The novel also unfolds in a smart and satisfying way. Ng develops dramatic tension so masterfully. It’s not hard to see how this book is becoming a television show. Each chapter felt like an episode of something like This Is Us, with the same emotional deft and knack for twists and turns.

Little Fires Everywhere is a deeply empathetic novel that asks its characters not who do you represent, but instead, who are you? This question guides the reader throughout the book and fuels the flame which quietly, but persistently demands their attention.



I, Tonya

After long admiring its nouveau Americana soundtrack, I finally sat down and watched Craig Gillespie’s I, Tonya, a critical darling from 2017 that stars Aussie actress Margot Robbie as its titular heroine full of gumption. Crafted with extraordinary, ethereal ice skating shots, the film develops a narrative about class and domestic violence. It offers an alternative storyline to the media-driven exaggerated catfight between Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan in 1994. Despite the movie’s awe-inspiring shots and narrative ambition, I can’t help but have mixed feelings about it.

It’s hard to deny the dazzling ’80s inspired set design of the film, which is drenched in sparkles and Barbie hues of hot pinks and azure blues when Tonya skates, then placed in dull, brown shades when she’s with her abusive mother or husband. The camera’s low angles empower its subject as a master of the ice while the crane shots highlight her vulnerability to the prejudices leveraged against her upbringing. The film is shot with digital and 35 mm film technology, which lends it both an antiquated and modern feel. What I mean to say from all of this is that it’s a beautiful film to watch.

The film obviously aims to subvert the ideals of the American Dream. As hard as Tonya works, she will always be judged by her looks, poor upbringing, and dysfunctional family. But I’m not sure if the actors were as deep into their roles as they needed to be. I suppose that the facetious tone was a stylistic choice. Still, the irony, humor, and fourth-wall-breaking sometimes took away from the heart of the story in exchange for gimmicky jokes and stunts. For example, I’m not sure if the scenes depicting domestic abuse had the gravitas that they deserved as we hear cheerful music playing in the background and Tonya breaking the fourth wall to crack a joke. Sebastian Stan’s performance as Jeff Gillooly struck me as ingratiatingly ironic, violent for the sake of violence, and hardly genuine (I do love him as Bucky Barnes though, OK?). If there’s a performance that anchored the film, maybe even more so than Robbie’s, it was Allison Janney’s portrayal of Lavona Golden, Tonya’s single mother who waitressed to pay for her daughter’s skate lessons. Lavona was perhaps the only fully nuanced character in the film, abusive and heinous, yet sympathetic and complicated.

If there’s a word to describe I, Tonya, it’s stylish. Stylish to look at, stylish in terms of its ironic mockumentary style. Beneath the style, there’s substance, but I’m not sure if it’s discernible to everyone.


Illuminated by warm orange and pink lights, Dee Rees’ Pariah (2011) is an emotionally raw coming-of-age film about a queer Black teenager named Alike (Adepero Oduye), who comes from a conservative, dysfunctional family living in Brooklyn. Rees (best known for her work in Mudbound), the movie’s director-writer, takes us on Alike’s journey. She divides the film between Alike’s tense relationships with her mother, father, best friend, lover, and even mentor. With a short running time of 1 hour and 26 minutes, Pariah efficiently grows its protagonist with tenderness and empathy. Alike is multi-faceted—introverted, outspoken, timid, and powerful all at once.

Rather than reductive, the plot’s simplicity gives her space to bloom. The main dramatic tension of the film centers on whether or not Alike will come out to her family. It’s a tension that branches out to her family and friends, each of whom grapple with their own demons, like her mother Audrey (Kim Wayans), who grows suspicious about her husband’s nightly ventures, and best friend Laura (Pernell Walker), who struggles with making ends meet while living with her sister.

The movie’s concise structure makes room for subtext. Pariah is a movie that teaches you how to read between the lines. When the characters speak, their exchanges are replete with pauses. They almost never say what they mean, but you know what they mean. We see this most prominently in Alike’s conversation with her father Arthur (Charles Parnell). Alike interrupts her father during his phone call. Tensely, she tells her dad that it sounds like he’s probably going back to work based on his phone call though she’s on the brink of asking him whether or not he’s seeing another woman. As the conversation continues, Arthur gets a feel for whether or not his daughter is queer per his wife’s request, asking her if she’s familiar with a club but he never outright asks her. Punctuated moments like these where we have to read between the lines allow us to feel the intentionalities and rawness of the third act deeply.

Besides the excellent emotional pacing of its script, Pariah also looks gorgeous. It’s shot on an Arricam on 35 mm, which gives the film a beautiful grainy texture. Most of the scenes in the film take place in closed rooms or at night, which can be literally and figuratively dark. But the warm tungsten lights illuminate the night and make us feel safe, comforted. Unsurprisingly, the film won the Excellence in Cinematography Award at Sundance. Bradford Young served as the film’s Director of Photography, and you may know him for his work in SelmaArrival, and the upcoming film, Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Pariah is strikingly intimate, drawing its viewers in with its quiet intensity and lush aesthetics.

Ingrid Goes West

Directed by newcomer Matt Spicer, Ingrid Goes West emerges as an admittedly low-key funny social media satire with neither a novel nor clear message, exhilaratingly filtered with Instagram gloss that propels a cloud of loosely condescending irony. It follows the lonely life of a very insecure Ingrid Thornburn (Aubrey Plaza), a disturbed young woman who takes her inheritance money from her late mother, and, as the film’s title suggests, heads west to follow an Instagram celebrity. The object of Ingrid’s desire is Taylor Sloane, an avocado toast enthusiast and Joan Didion-loving photographer whose fake-deep life is complete with a man-bunned husband who spray-paints hashtags onto oil paintings and calls it art.

Obsessed with Taylor and her picture-perfect lifestyle, Ingrid befriends the Instagram star by means of stalking. She manipulates her hapless landlord, a Batman-loving aspiring screenwriter, into sponsoring her schemes, which goes half-noticed by her BFF who’s constantly seeking for moments to capture on her phone. Ingrid follows Taylor’s lead like a self-conscious high school outlier at the heels of her boho queen bee, who decorates her hive with basic rustic things that look like the knick-knacks at the Target dollar section but are actually ludicrously marked up.

Ingrid bases her sense of self with how many followers and likes she has. This is supposed to come off as disturbing and tragic. Ingrid’s motivations do inspire violence, breach legality, and hurt the people in her life (mostly herself). But the film is absurd and surreal to the point of self-parody. For example, she buys her stalkee’s dream house. Rips pages out of a Joan Didion novel to use as toilet paper. Aubrey Plaza does bring a delightfully nefarious and sympathetic Norman Bates quality to Ingrid who drives the story to its end. But the screenplay does not provide viewers with a necessary roadmap as it takes them on a joyride. Its structure often feels picaresque and random. And while there’s an easy chemistry between Elizabeth Olsen and Aubrey Plaza (two mumblecore queens in the making) as friends–maybe even a little more than friends—it can’t entirely lift the story, which never fully gels.

Ingrid Goes West tells us a story about mental health in the age of social media, a trending topic for decades to come. There’s an interesting point about Ingrid’s grief for her mother’s death that could be further explored. As the film stands, it’s telling us things we’ve already heard before, that social media makes us sad and disconnected with the world.

Avengers: Infinity War (minor spoilers)

Avengers: Infinity War delivers on its promise of being the biggest superhero event of the season, year, and decade. It’s exactly what you’d expect it to be, and a little bit more. Between two to three dozen superheroes in one movie, viewers will get tons of blow-ya-mind fight scenes in the movie’s 160 minutes, which, admittedly, never feels too long.

At its core, Avengers: Infinity War is a crowd-pleaser. And it’s a damn good crowd-pleaser laced with equal parts existential dread and PG TV morality (slash humor, because let’s not forget all of the borderline corny dad jokes coming from Thor, Star-Lord, and Tony Stark).

Basically, the plot revolves around Thanos (Josh Brolin), a wrinkly mauve Titan with one clear-cut quest—to gather all of the prized Infinity Stones in his gauntlet and rule the universe. While most might have just settled for a nice retirement community in Florida, Thanos stays dead-set on acquiring these stones. Because of power, duh. There’s not a lot of stakes for Thanos if he loses but the writers add a stake by having him confront his adopted daughter Gamora (Zoe Saldana). It’s a move that I don’t entirely buy, but it does add more clarity to the narrative. With so many characters, Infinity War streamlines its narrative around three basic storylines: Gamora hanging out with Thanos; Captain America (Chris Evans) figuring out what to do with Vision’s (Paul Bettany) Mind Stone; and Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Iron-Man (Robert Downey Jr.), and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) tracking down Thanos. That’s to say, it’s not too hard to follow the plot. Everything ties in together.

Given the scope of Infinity War, I harbored low expectations for character depth. But a few characters did pleasantly surprise me, like Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). I’ve been a fan of Elizabeth Olsen since seeing her performance alongside Jeremy Renner in Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River. Olsen truly has a gift for emotional depth in her understated performances. In Infinity War, she’s a concerned lover, an underestimated heroine, a missing key. Ruffalo also brings a touch of comedy as the frustrated Bruce Banner who can’t become the Hulk. More than just a gag, the struggle to turn into everyone’s friendly neighborhood green monster also gives him room for character development. His frustration is one that a lot of people can relate to when their game gets salted. And I guess Tony Stark. But we kind of expected Tony Stark to have some sort of character arc in an Avengers film right? Small request, Marvel: fewer dad jokes for RDJ, please.

The film ends on a mind-blowing note that is probably as philosophically delicious as the twists in season 5 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or season one of The Good Place. Some have been quick to call it a cheap shot for a cliffhanger to keep us in hungry anticipation until May of next year. It’s a tad gimmicky, but you have to admit that it definitely disarms our expectations of what would happen in a normally feel-good superhero franchise.

It’s time for film buffs to succumb to the powers that be at Marvel Studios or at least engage with its films more earnestly. No, Marvel films are not the darling subjects for Marxist film theory (they’re produced by the most capitalist production company of them all—Disney) but they speak volumes about contemporary politics and, unlike much of highbrow cinema, include room for actors from traditionally excluded backgrounds to have meaningful characters. Plus they’re getting funnier by the day. Think Black Panther. It’s a film with a Black director and a predominantly Black cast. It explores themes of nationalism, isolationism, and colonialism. Thor: Ragnarok investigates the impact of trauma and displacement. Infinity War questions superheroism and introduces existentialism. While I’m still keeping my fingers crossed for more dialogue from female characters, I’ll inevitably feed money to the Marvel machine for years to come.


Bridesmaids isn’t the be all end all feminist comedy film that it’s lauded as but it offers food for thought about the dainty, polished roles that women are typically pigeonholed in. If you can stomach its raunchy food for thought, of course.

Kristen Wiig portrays Annie, a neurotic woman in her late thirties going through an almost midlife crisis. Her boyfriend leaves her after their cake bakery closes down. Annie’s kind-of-but-not-really dating a hot, but emotionally asinine tool (who, to his credit, is played by the typically charming Jon Hamm). Her dead-end job as a jewelry assistant leaves her uninspired, grumpy, and still unable to afford her rent. To top everything off, her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) is tying the knot and introduces her to the picture perfect bridesmaid Helen (Rose Byrne). Helen, who, though tasteful and elegant, comes off as irreparably snobbish and creates a rift between Annie and Lillian with her lavish wedding ideas.

The humor in Bridesmaids is goofy, over-the-top, and gross. I’m on the fence about raunchy, over-the-top humor since I feel like it banks greatly on shock value. Some of the film’s gags make me laugh—like Melissa McCarthy’s puppy hoarding scheme—while others made me cringe—most notably, the notorious dress-fitting scene where all of the bridesmaids get food poisoning. It is refreshing to see women as vulgar and dirty as men, who are less likely to be criticized for that behavior. The ridiculousness of the dress-fitting scene makes it fun to watch but the deliberate over-performing feels slightly off-putting. Even hammy and a little condescending, as though the creators are giving themselves a pat on the back for saying, hey, women can be nasty too. And, the scene is nasty. Do not watch it on a full stomach.

The film is refreshing in its deep portrayal of women’s relationships. Annie’s boy problems are charming but relatively inconsequential. Besides her friends-with-benefits ordeal with Hamm’s character, she harbors a sweet, quiet relationship with Officer Nathan Rhodes (Chris O’Dowd), a stumble-bumble Irish policeman. Bridesmaids predominantly spotlights Annie’s relationships with other women, namely, Lillian, Helen, and her mother. Through these relationships, we understand her insecurities about being broke, unemployed, and unloved. The women in the film don’t compete over a man; they compete with each other. Jealousy stems from the desire for validation and on a deeper level, reluctant admiration. Annie wants to be as collected and tasteful as Helen, who herself (surprise, surprise) eventually admits to struggling with forming authentic female friendships.

While you can discern depth in its relationships, the structure of the film strikes me as slightly muddy. The third act, in particular, is a hair loose. There are lots of gags, most notably the car scene with Annie and Helen as they try to get Nathan’s attention. We don’t get to see much of Lillian when things hit the fan for Annie, which feels strange considering that the film revolves around their friendship. Their last conversation together feels convenient—Lillian had never voiced concerns about Helen but now confides in Annie at the very end? Hm.

Bridesmaids will bring out some laughs and share hard-knock life lessons about womanhood. Like its protagonist, it’s charmingly flawed. Chick flick connoisseurs who can’t watch another romantic comedy centered on the pursuit of a man will get a kick out of Bridesmaids. 



Anchored by Amy Schumer’s comedic brio, Trainwreck brings warmth and sharp humor to taboo subjects like sex and death. It reveals Schumer’s talents as a writer, actress, and comic but simultaneously showcases the current limitations of the modern love genre.

Trainwreck revolves around Amy Townsend, a thirtysomething magazine writer who works hard, parties harder, and has serious commitment issues. She’s mastered the art of dating men without getting attached, a behavior that subverts the standard trope of men casually dating women without getting attached. Her fun, blase attitude towards men supposedly stems from a lesson that her father inculcated into her at a young age—the film opens with him telling her and her sister that monogamy isn’t realistic. Trainwreck divides its time evenly between Amy’s various gaffes with her boss, string of men, and family. While begrudgingly working on an assignment, Amy falls for her subject Aaron Conners (Bill Hader), a straightlaced sports doctor with a nerdy boyish charm. At the same time, she balances this newfound love interest with family drama between her traditional sister and jerkish father whose MS has significantly progressed.

I suppose that I have a soft spot for Amy, who’s a scrappy female journalist that’s less than perfect. She’s a bit of Nola Darling and a lot of Bridget Jones. That’s to say, a wonderfully complicated female character whose shortcomings are as convincing as her warmth. I also have a soft spot for Bill Hader as Aaron Conners. Hader’s Aaron is achingly sincere, an edged up bumbling Hugh Grant romcom character for contemporary times. That said, given what we’ve seen from Hader’s performance on Saturday Night Live, I do feel like we could’ve seen even more depth to his character.

There’s something about films and shows on modern relationships (like Girls and Love) that feels ingratiating to me from time to time. I think of the character of Bojack Horseman, who recognizes his terrible behavior and recognizes that he recognizes his terrible behavior. He knows that this doesn’t make him a better person (er horse) and continues to repeat the offensive behavior compulsively. While self-actualization is satirical on Bojack Horseman, it’s typically the goal in many stories about modern love. And it’s done with such honesty that it almost feels like these films and shows allow the characters to get away with their dubious behavior without ramifications. I couldn’t help but think about this looking back on Amy’s sordid (and illegal) encounter with her intern and her absurdly unprofessional relationship with Aaron. I suppose empathy is the goal. But empathy and accountability are seldom mutually exclusive.

Many modern love stories also drive me insane in their portrayal of race and gender. For example, there are many jokes about Asians and Black people throughout the film, and many of them do not land and do not do anything to advance the narrative of the film. I’m not against edgy humor that pushes boundaries (Ali Wong! Tiffany Haddish!) but I am hesitant about humor for the sake of humor, especially when it uncritically diminishes entire groups of people. In terms of gender, one of my biggest pet peeves is when love stories end with the career girl getting the guy and we don’t know anything about what happens to her career afterward. This is how Trainwreck ends. This is how Bridget Jones’s Baby ends. Sure, Amy does this sweet, hilarious grand romantic gesture thing and gets her piece published in Vanity Fair. But what happens to her career? Did it stop mattering because she got the guy back? For a two hour comedy that’s supposed to be about subverting conventions of female portrayals on the screen, the film relies on a lot of regressive stereotypes.

Trainwreck will satisfy romantic comedy lovers with its warm, yet prickly humor and natural chemistry between the romantic leads. Still, I’m hesitant to wholeheartedly embrace the film as feminist or progressive merely because it features a complicated woman.


Throwback: Heathers

It’s been a while since I’ve watched Heathers but I have recently gotten the chance to read Daniel Waters’ brilliant screenplay during a long car ride. Heathers has always been one of those movies that I adequately enjoyed but never fully understood. It always struck me as a hair too cynical, the protagonist as a little too precocious. Over the years though, I’ve come to appreciate the film more, embracing the twisted emotional journey of its protagonist and uncovering a quietly empathetic message about teen hierarchies and insecurities.

Heathers revolves around Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder), who hangs out with the Heathers, stock mean girls at her school who are beautiful, shallow, and ridiculously popular. At the beginning of the movie, Veronica meets J.D. (Christian Slater), a new student who’s a little bit of James Dean meets Beetlejuice. J.D. tests her boundaries but the cruel Heathers and other members of their clique die by framed suicide.

Heathers poses biting commentary about the futility of teenage popularity, the ephemerality of martyrdom. Ostensibly, it creates an us-versus-them dichotomy. The Heathers are the mean girls and everyone else, their helpless victims. But then we have Veronica. Without Veronica, this film would be just a good-versus-evil bully revenge film. Veronica’s character exists in a gray area between the popular and the unpopular. She’s a snarky goth queen who, despite looking down upon the most popular girls at her school, still hangs around them. The dichotomy between her thoughts and actions renders her a compelling character. Her choice to hang around the Heathers reflects her insecurities. She remains complicit in all of their bullying. But she stays because being part of the in-group makes her feel safe.

Veronica is a feminist figure who overcomes male abuse from popular jocks as well as that from her boyfriend. Towards the end, the dramatic tension shifts from will J.D. corrupt Veronica to will Veronica survive? And Veronica does, indeed, survive J.D.’s mess. Despite her disdain for the self-obsessed culture at her school, Veronica puts on the white hat and becomes the new sheriff in town, as she so adeptly tells Heather Chandler.

Heathers has been called a dark cult comedy. Yet it’s more optimistic than I’ve given it credit for in the past. At the end of the day, Veronica refuses J.D.’s nihilism, ensuring that he’s the only victim of his actions. She befriends the chronically bullied student Martha Dunnstock, someone who unwittingly became a casualty in trying to mimic the deaths of the popular students. She achieves self-actualization, realizing her responsibilities as the new ruler of the school. She realizes that her classmates aren’t merely blind sheep. Like Martha, many students, entrenched in their vulnerabilities and insecurities, seek guidance, even in the most perverse forms.

A Quiet Place

John Krasinski is the co-writer, director, and star in A Quiet Place, an imaginative horror film with a disarmingly surprising amount of heart. The movie takes place in a rural part of a dystopian world, in which a family has somehow managed to survive in their humble abode on a farm for well over a year despite being surrounded by giant alien monsters that viciously attack upon hearing sound. It revolves around Krasinski’s character Lee, a bearded survivalist who’s been trying to figure out how to kill the monsters and keep his family safe. There’s a dull comfort in Krasinski’s traditionalist, fatherly role, one that even in this harrowingly quiet film, speaks volumes about our society’s values.

The film makes you aware of your own privileges as a listener—film, we often forget, is as aural as it is visual. The theater is mostly dead silent throughout the film’s run, with, of course, the exception of very loud popcorn chewers. A Quiet Place elevates the horror genre’s jump scare—you know, those annoying sudden noises that pollute the Insidious franchise—and somehow crafts sound into a simultaneously tragic and terrifying medium. The sound design is not only ingenious but overtly wielded to captivate the audience. For example, the sound tapers off when the camera switches to Regan, Lee’s deaf daughter (wonderfully played by the deaf actress Millicent Simmonds). I’ve never seen a movie where the communication is predominantly American Sign Language, so watching the movie strikes me as an interesting and unique experience. The decision to craft a horror movie around sound allows the story to be both visually and aurally powerful—as much as the viewer will listen closely for anything out of the ordinary, they will also be actively seeking for visual cues.

A Quiet Place made me cry. And I seldom cry watching horror movies, unless they are very good, like The Babadook or Train to Busan. The family’s strained love feels believable. The strained relationship between Lee and Regan gives the film a touch of coming-of-age drama that makes the climax so much more impactful. Additionally, Krasinski’s on-screen romance with his wife Emily Blunt, who plays the mother Evelyn, is wonderfully natural and understated.

As much as I’ll sing praises about the movie, I also have to mention the aspects that irk me. As Richard Brody astutely points out in his review of the film, there’s this backward, blustery male survival narrative that overwhelms the story. If there is a pharmacy in town, why would the Abbott family choose to live in the woods? Why not a hospital or a bank? Also, the family has a handy rifle, despite the fact that it don’t seem to be very effective at all (for the most part). Which makes me feel like including it was more of an aesthetic choice rather than a practical one. And it’s an aesthetic choice—one of a crazed, armed white man—that feels particularly troubling given America’s recent tragedies. If they somehow manage to have Apple earphones, I’m sure that the Abbotts are living in a world where there’s technology—buildings, chemicals—advanced enough so that people don’t have to resort to living in the woods with guns to defend themselves against these alien monsters.

As much as the relationship between Regan and Lee moves me, it also troubles me. Deeply. Lee tells Regan to stay at home to help her pregnant mother cook and do laundry while he takes his son fishing. Sure, she’s deaf, so he’s worried about her. But still, the early twentieth century folksy Americana gender politics leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Of course, it’s Regan and Evelyn who eventually learn how to defeat the monsters. Evelyn also proves herself to be incredibly brave and resourceful throughout the movie (nail scene, anyone?). I’m not sure if these moments redeem the regressive implications of the exposition, though.

My friend tells me that A Quiet Place is a great movie—if you don’t think about it too much. The driving concept is unique, the characters are well-drawn, and the viewing experience is sublime. The implications of the story though? Those are cans of worms we should make a point to open.