Tag Archives: Jared Abrahamson

A Sort Of Homecoming

Like a House on Fire

by Rachel Willis

Is there ever a good reason for leaving your family? And if you come home, can you expect them to welcome you with open arms?

Writer/director Jesse Noah Klein examines what happens to a family when a mother who left them behind wants to return in Like a House on Fire.

When the film opens, we’re not sure why Dara (Sarah Sutherland, Veep) has left her family. But we know from the beginning she wants to be let back in, and that she wants to see her daughter. Her husband, Danny (Jared Abrahamson), isn’t sure he wants that to happen, especially since their almost 4-year-old daughter, Isabel (an unspeakably adorable Margaux Vaillancourt), doesn’t remember mama.

Dara’s backstory, as it unfolds, helps the audience sympathize with her disenchantment upon finding her family hasn’t waited for her. But there’s also sympathy to be had for Danny, and particularly, Isabel. This is not a situation with a clear villain, but a nuanced look at the ways in which families can fall apart.

The film’s best moments come from Sutherland. She conveys the desperation of a woman who needs to reconnect with her daughter, as well as the hope that things will turn out the way she wants. Whenever her efforts are thwarted, we feel her devastation. Dara’s initial meetings with Isabel are touching. Dara’s joy and disappointment commingle whenever she’s with her daughter.

It’s the rest of the film that doesn’t always live up to its character.

There are some needless character conflicts that detract from the story’s focus. Dara’s stepmother (Amanda Brugel – a fabulous actress) is a thorn in her side – but the reasons why are unclear. There’s a stepsister (perhaps a half-sister?) who comes and goes without much to do except provide another reason for the stepmother’s animosity. It doesn’t seem as if much thought went into these two characters.

The college boy that Dara meets and befriends at the park is the film’s messiest issue. The time Dara spends with him would have been better devoted to digging into the larger family issues surrounding Dara – both with her husband and daughter, as well as her father and his family.

As it is, a lot of the issues and relationships in the film putter out. There’s an imbalance that sways the film one way and another, but never lands the audience on solid ground.

Which is perhaps how Dara feels all along.

See How High She Flies

The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw

by Hope Madden

Who’s the villain?

A vampire didn’t choose that destiny, nor the zombie, nor even the werewolf. All three are victims of fate.

The witch, however, comes to her dark powers by choice. And maybe – as Robert Eggers pointed out in his 2015 masterpiece The VVitch—that choice might even make some sense.

Since Eggers’s beguiling horror show, a number of filmmakers have joined him in his ruminations. Lukas Fiegelfeld’s mesmerizing 2017 debut Hagazussa and Luca Guadagnino’s 2018 feminist reprise of Suspiria represent the strongest among the resulting films.

Few if any will ever tell the tale so powerfully or so well as Eggers, but writer/director Thomas Robert Lee has a go with The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw. His film is interested in women’s agency, their oddness, what they owe, what they should and shouldn’t be deciding for themselves, and what they are willing to sacrifice.

It’s August of 1973, but it could just as easily be the 1950s or the 1880s. (So why 1973? It was a big year in women’s rights, after all.) A rugged woman, isolated from the nearby religious community, stands silhouetted against her barn, ax and woodpile.

She is Agatha Earnshaw (Catherine Walker), and she has a secret.

Things haven’t been right in the village since the eclipse 17 years back, but things have been especially troubling lately. Agatha has the only farm that’s producing, the only animals that haven’t taken sick.

Performances are wonderful in a film that looks rustic and spooky, creating a time out of time. Walker, who was so effective in the wonderful little Irish horror Dark Song, cuts an impressive figure of maternal ferocity. She’s orbited by consistently impressive turns, whether the sincere pastor (Sean McGinley), entitled patriarch (Tom Carey), distraught husband (Jared Abrahamson), or young woman finding her voice (Jessica Reynolds).

Each man, however sympathetic or compassionate, represents danger. Like a lot of horror films, The  Curse of Audrey Earnshaw is a coming-of-age cautionary tale: fear the power of womanhood. But Lee is careful to keep asking who, exactly, is the villain here?

The direction is too often obvious: a cough, a handkerchief, blood. At other times, cinematic choices betray the film’s low budget. The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw will never reach the ranks of classic, but it makes a lot of bold choices and leaves an impression.

The Audacity and the Idiocy

American Animals

by Hope Madden

In 2012, director Bart Layton laid down one of the most compelling and nutty documentaries in recent history. His true crime doc The Imposter was one of those rare films that you could not predict nor could you turn away from. It was fascinating, and not just because the story was so wild, but because of Layton’s spry skills as a storyteller.

He’s again pulling from the world of true crime to tell a potent story with his latest, the narrative feature American Animals. The yarn he spins here: four perfectly reasonable, likable, comfortable college kids steal a set of pricey books from Transylvania University’s rare books collection, including Darwin’s original Origins of the Species and Audubon’s Birds of America.

The audacity of the plan itself is reason enough to pay attention. Buddies get the itch to do something big. Something life-changing. Consequences be damned. Or, more rightly, ignored.

Build from there with a truly talented group of young actors: Evan Peters (X-Men’s Quicksilver), Barry Keoghan (Killing of a Sacred Deer, Dunkirk – the kid can do no wrong), Jared Abrahamson (Sweet Virginia, Detour) and Blake Jenner (Everybody Wants Some).

Layton opens with text on screen: This is not based on a true story. The words “not based on” disappear, leaving: This is a true story.

A bold statement to make, and American Animals is as interested in the effect individual perspective plays on true stories as Craig Gillespie’s I, Tonya or Sarah Polley’s near-perfect 2012 documentary, Stories We Tell.

Once again, Layton blends fiction and nonfiction devices to question the possibility of honesty in storytelling. As he weaves from actors recreating the heist to the actual participants telling their versions of events, Layton poses intriguing questions about perspective and truth.

They aren’t questions he answers, though, or even truly explores.

The film works best when it digs into the American preoccupation with unlimited potential, the individual’s specialness. The four young men who risk their futures unnecessarily suffer from that curse of the restlessly entitled.

As you watch the inevitable collapse of a reckless gang of kids’ movie-inspired heist, American Animals suggests depth and introspection but feels more like it’s grasping for a suitable ending, an appropriate way to cap all this madness with a bit of insight.

The problem with the film is the problem with the heist itself: it was fun while it lasted, but was there really a purpose?