This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Scout Tafoya’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Maybe it's me but there's something kind of cheap and tawdry about giving your character a sort of accentuated handicap and playing it for scares? The treatment of Charlie broke the spell the movie attempts to cast in the first ten minutes. She produces a chocolate bar from her pocket that neither parent knows the origins of, hinting that she's one of those magic children movies love that just does things to which the parents of a heavily troubled kid don't pay attention. "I didn't bring the EpiPen!" Shouts the mother. Bad writing, bad parenting or both? The movie continues this pattern for the next two hours. The callousness and appalling coincidence required to set act 2 in motion was where the wheels fell off entirely, followed by a completely gratuitous gore money shot that I'd have loved in a film with no pretensions. The film didn't achieve anything else, mind you, but it's plainly out to be more than the sum of its parts.
The screaming, nearly epileptic treatment of grief doesn't belong here because it's a prelude to a parade of unrelated shock effects and severed heads (the explanation for which never arrives - why heads? What's the deal?). The grief never connects to the main story, it's not about grief. It's not even really about the dead mother, despite her importance in the last fifteen minutes. When Toni Collette discovered the rug I almost walked out. How did she miss it the first two times she visited? And then there's a box of evidence waiting for her in the attic? Gimme a fucking break. Ann Dowd's plan rests on Collette having waited that long to discover pictures of her with her mother, an absurd plot device in a movie full of them.
The issue is Aster put together a collection of great images and then used scotch tape (and those pointless day-to-Night edits) to connect them. And they are great images, mind you: naked cultists always work (though the median age never makes any sense to me), the headless floating corpse drifting to the tree house, the Paimon statue, grandma's shadow in the attic. But, as in Lights Out, they don't have a movie that deserves them. Possessed Collette's actions make no sense in the last ten minutes. Why does she chase him to the attic, the seance is in the tree house? And if that isn't her plan why bother chasing him at all, the little devil light just has to find him and frankly could have done it while he was asleep.
Even the framework is flimsy. What's the point of Collette's obviously intentionally symbolic career as a dollhouse maker? The movie isn't even about her. Why bother plaguing her with control and grief issues, they never come within pissing distance of being resolved. The movie could be about Wolff's grief but it's uninterested in how he copes, making the sudden reversal of POV a fatal misstep. We don't know him. He's a snot-leaking, stoned cypher. And was grandma's plan to have him commit the fatal accident? The movie attempts to cover up her satanic ritual behavior (which is useless to us anyway, we never see it) by saying she had dementia, which is a cover-up the movie never needs because we don't know how much she's meant to have done to Charlie before she dies anyway. And Aster never for a minute admits he's building to what he's building towards.
The movie is a series of false blinds (my wife's having a nervous breakdown, my daughter controls birds, we're seeing ghosts, seances are real and work every time) that it doesn't admit until the final reel were part of a way-too-elaborate conspiracy that could have been affected without half of this effort. For instance: walking into the house with a gun and killing everybody you needed to. That never occurred to anybody in the cult? Instead we have a screenwriting 101 film-length misdirection wherein Grandma wants Charlie to be a conduit for the devil, so she puts in a bunch of time with cultists, dies or kills herself (?) so that her close friend can visit her and explain how to conduct seances that will bring the spirit of a family member that Grandma didn't know would die after her into the house in order to have it possess a different family member? All that trigonometry for a couple of creepy perspective shots?
And along the way we have to endure Toni Collette, one of our best actresses, alternately behaving like a petulant teenager or shrilly screaming exposition at her completely checked-out husband. Furthermore our auteur doesn't even trust the imagery enough not to wallpaper the movie with Colin Stetson's score. Stetson is one of my favourite modern composers but he's got no business stabbing light-switch moments in a film meant to unnerve you. That's a poor use of his talent. This is a poor use of *everyone's* talents, shot in that instagrammy cinematography filter they also used in It Comes At Night, another insufferable movie with pretensions towards beating horror movies at their own game. Lords of Salem did all of this better and didn't have to stretch into tantric knots to get two hours of screentime out of seventeen meagre, conflicting ideas. Just admit what you're doing and then do it. Don't make me watch you crawl to an ending you thought was more clever than the movie you made.