COMIC DRAMA; 1hr 48min
STARRING: Richard Jenkins, Amy Schumer, Steven Yeun, Jane Houdyshell, Beanie Feldstein, June Squibb
Time out: from left, Schumer, Jenkins and Shipp
When the Blake family comes together for Thanksgiving dinner in the new Manhattan digs of younger sister Brigid (Booksmart ’s Feldstein) and her partner, Richard (Minari’s Yeun), it’s immediately obvious that the barely furnished apartment is a malevolent, House of Leaves–style presence. Its Goth-lite vibe of spooky thumping noises (apparently from an upstairs tenant), shabby paintwork, bilious lighting and claustrophobic hallways positively creaks Ill-Omened.
Call it a renovator’s dream or a disaster waiting to happen, the setting is a raddled canvas for a dynamic that percolates with disappointment. Patriarch Erik (Jenkins) seems cemented in pained resignation and has nightmares for which his wife, Deidre (Houdyshell), insensitively ridicules him. Older sister Aimee (Schumer), who suffers from colitis and is about to lose her job as a paralegal, is pining for her ex-girlfriend and agonising over her dating prospects. Deidre is a do-gooder whose housewarming gift is a statue of the Virgin Mary. Brigid is as high maintenance as Richard is eager to please. Erik’s dementia-afflicted mother, Momo (Squibb), spouts gibberish before her knockout meds kick in.
Over an evening spiked with barbed conversations, we learn that Richard used to be depressed (but is just fine now!) while Brigid has had five musical compositions rejected in the past year. Catholic school janitor Erik refuses to pay for therapy for her, however, because (a) he is obsessed with not having enough money, (b) he thinks Brigid and Richard’s health-conscious life choices are costly and indulgent, and (c) his own life has derailed big time.
Writer-director Stephen Karam’s ensemble cast smashes this hot mess, fine-tuning its layers and shades of frustrated love under the hovering eye of cinematographer Lol Crawley’s camera, which observes the cut-and-thrust from a safe distance like a wary guest. When dessert arrives, it’s with a side order of revelations that will plunge Erik’s centre of gravity into a chilling existential darkness. The closing in of the walls that entrap him is a master stroke of perspective.