Short films director Ari Astaire directed his first feature film, Reincarnation, a psychological horror and family drama.
The picture tells about the Graham family, in which Ellen’s grandmother dies, which gives rise to a split between relatives. The mother of the creative Annie, played by Toni Collette, tormented her with her pressure all her life, but in old age, dementia was added to her unbearable character. Until the last day, the daughter endured a difficult relationship with her mother, therefore, after her death, she felt not only grief, but also liberation. Husband Steve and sixteen-year-old son Peter, played by Alex Wolf, took the death of a representative of the older generation rather indifferently. However, thirteen-year-old Charlie, played by Milly Shapiro, reacted painfully to the loss of her beloved granny.
In an attempt to survive the tragedy, the artist plunges into work and prepares for an art exhibition. But she cannot cope with grief on her own, and she joins a group that provides psychological assistance to people who suffer from the death of loved ones. At the sessions, Mrs. Graham gradually reveals the difficult story of her family tree, talks about her mother, the terrible death of her father, and the suicide of her schizophrenic brother. The artist also meets the friendly Joan, who shows sincere sympathy and compassion for her.
Soon, Annie discovers demonic and witchcraft books in the things of her deceased mother. At the same time, someone desecrates the grave of an old woman, and the children get into a car accident, as a result of which one dies. At the meeting, a new acquaintance Joan offers to hold a seance and establish contact with the deceased, so that she reveals the secrets that have a tragic and mystical influence on the existence of the family for more than one generation.
The meaning of the film
The film “Reincarnation” is open to interpretation. On the one hand, given the obvious mental disorders present in all the characters, the observed may well be the fruit of their sick imagination. All characters suffer from depression to a greater or lesser extent. Annie attends group therapy sessions, talks about the mental problems of her relatives, about the suicide of her father and schizophrenic brother, and about her mother with dissociative identity disorder. The heroine herself suffers from anxiety, alternating grief and guilt, and expresses her emotions by creating creepy model figures. Peter blames himself for his sister’s death and subconsciously self-harms. Steve is just apathetic and quietly depressed. Thus, the phenomena occurring in this deeply unhealthy family can be interpreted as being created by their own traumatized psyche.
However, judging by the director’s comments, the “official” version is still different and the events shown should be interpreted literally. The first frames hint to the viewer that the characters are just puppets controlled by something or someone from the outside. Also, according to Ari Astaire, the fact that the heroine makes miniatures is a metaphor for the current situation. The characters simply consistently live what they are destined to, without the right to change anything, and the outcome of the whole story is quite natural.
It all started when Helen, in her youth, was too carried away by the occult and spiritualism and began to worship Paimon, the prince of hell. Having become the head of the sect, she, together with other sectarians, obsessively tried to revive the demon, which doomed her family to an inevitable tragic end. The first attempt of a woman to instill the spirit of an ancient god in her son was unsuccessful and ended in his suicide. Further, Helen forced her daughter to give birth to a boy against her will, since she needed a young male body connected with her by blood ties. Wanting to use her grandson, but being at a distance from him, the grandmother was close to Charlie, who became the demon’s temporary home.
In the scene where the brother and sister are heading to the party, they drive past a pole with a cult symbol (the same pendant Granny wore). It is at this place on the way back that the girl beats off her head. Charlie’s death was not only pre-planned and inevitable (it’s not for nothing that there is a recurring motif of beheading in the movie), but also contributed to a grandiose discord between relatives, which only went into the hands of the sect and the devilish forces.
The appearance of Joan is also no coincidence. She turns out to be a member of the sect and, together with the rest of the followers, continues the work begun by the deceased old woman and is engaged in the transfer of an evil spirit. Joan is cunning, slips a spell to a desperate mother to perform a dark ritual and release evil spirits. Having entered the house at the invitation, the demonic spirit begins to pursue its main goal – Peter. When the guy jumps out of the window, the evil spirits move into him, and then the coronation takes place in the tree house. The mission of the ancient infernal god is completed – Paimon has found a young male body and can command souls. As a result, evil won, and the Graham family, thanks to the efforts of the eldest relative, was destroyed.
Characteristics of heroes
Helen is a powerful and gloomy representative of the older generation with a difficult character, under whose yoke all family members existed until her death. She raised unloved children with violated personal boundaries and deep-seated resentments.
Annie is the mother of a family with multiple psychological traumas dating back to childhood. Most of her life controlled by a tough mother, even in matters of childbearing. Works as an artist, creates miniatures of houses and figurines of people.
Steve is the father of the family. A quiet and calm man who does not enter into conflicts and strives to maintain peace in the family. Works as a psychiatrist.
Peter is the eldest son. A sixteen-year-old boy, an ordinary teenager who wants to break away at a party and chat with a girl he likes.
Charlie is the youngest daughter. A strange and reserved thirteen-year-old girl who prefers creepy activities, such as cutting off the heads of pigeons, to socialize with her peers. The closest and most understanding person for her is her grandmother.
Literally, the film translates as “Heredity”, and its main theme is family ties. No one can escape from family and ancestry, even if it hurts, bitterly and lonely, and the younger one is responsible for the actions and mistakes of the older generation. The hidden grievances of the heroes, the lack of attempts to understand a loved one and their inability to talk to each other give rise to scandals and mutual hatred. All this eventually leads to total misunderstanding, distrust and the final family split.
Director Ari Aster also focuses on the hopelessness that permeates the entire film. The heroes of “Reincarnation” seem to live in a dollhouse and do not control their own lives. The ancient Greek fatalism mentioned in the picture is a hint of the inevitability of fate and the predestination of the future. Throughout the film, the heroes are manipulated like puppets by otherworldly forces, each time proving that any of their initiatives are useless.