Heaven Sent

Heaven Sent
S.J Morgan
Midnight Sun 2018


S.J Morgan’s Heaven Sent is a fun, easy-to-read Young Adult debut. Following Evie, an Australian sixteen-year-old with a crooked spine, the novel examines the complications of separated parents, new love, and mental illness.

This novel is home to some strong, if inconsistent, writing and I ripped through it in a matter of hours. The prologue, in particular, struck me as both vivid and wistful. There are some pacing issues that are distracting – the immediacy with which Evie trusts the boy, Gabriel, who crashed through her bedroom wall one night, feels rushed and a little bit at odds with the girl’s naturally suspicious nature. Additionally, this feels like a book deciding what it wants to be as it goes – the beginning feels like it could be a supernatural romance, but the ending is definitely an action-thriller. Morgan’s writing is capable of being both tight and engaging in either genre, but toying with both is disorientating.

However, Morgan seems to have a thumb at the pulse of the friendships of teenage girls. Evie and her best friend, Paige, demonstrate the simultaneously emotionally manipulative and caring behaviour of teenage girls, who are still determining the best way to navigate the world. Indeed, Morgan is gifted at creating some rich characters. Gabriel’s erratic and earnest attempts at ‘watching over’ Evie create a chilling atmosphere and a creeping sense of concern. Seb, Evie’s mother’s much younger boyfriend, was perfectly cast as a slimy, pathetic loser. Even Evie’s house, broken and tarp-covered, feels like an oppressive character, and the eventual move she and her mother make is a satisfying thematic event.

Evie suffers from scoliosis – a condition that warps the spine into a ‘S’. She is in the final stages of wearing a brace designed to straighten her spine. Scoliosis is an incredibly painful condition and Morgan’s depiction of it feels a little simple and easy. The brace is removed in the first half of the novel and though Evie often complains about having to wear it, there’s no complexity to the physicality of both the condition and the treatment. It feels as though the brace is removed before it can be an imposition, or narrative object.

That said, Morgan has produced a novel with a lot of heart. Heaven Sent will appeal to its teenage demographic, its pacing faults aside. To me, Morgan is an author with a considerable amount of potential and her next work will be something to keep an eye on.

3.5/5 stars


Words by Riana Kinlough

Hereditary

In our current horror canon brimming with found-footage invisible demon encounters, possessed dolls and questionable nuns, Ari Aster’s Hereditary is a further step towards the horror genre being taken seriously.

The film follows the Graham family in the aftermath of Annie’s (Toni Collette) mother’s funeral. Her death, seemingly innocuous, begins a sequence of disturbing and violent events which cause the family unit and the individuals within it to unravel. As basic a plot description as that seems, going into detail ruins all kinds of nasty surprises – the trailer itself barely reveals anything. And indeed, this horror film can be considered a mystery with your viewing experience underlined by mutterings of ‘what the hell is going on?’ to the friend you forced to accompany you and the answers not being revealed until the last twenty or so minutes.

What can be revealed though is that the film is horrifically transfixing. Aster (who also wrote the film) has created an atmosphere that we coexist with forces both omnipresent and evil. It is another example of horror-drama (which I could abbreviate as ‘dramor’, or if you’re feeling particularly risqué: ‘horma’) that joins other films such as The Witch in depicting the destruction of the family unit as they fight against the incomprehensible. When you watch the film, there is this constant sense of dread and wrongness, like the conviction that eyes are watching when you leave the closet door slightly ajar. It is the ambiguousness of the evil force disrupting the family that is possibly the most unsettling thing about this film and keeps your eyes on the screen for fear you’ll miss some essential clue. But let me save you the time: you will literally never guess what is going on. The ending, however, is very polarising. While it (thankfully) explains the reasons behind everything, it comes out of left field and doesn’t have as satisfying a payoff as I wanted. You will have your questions answered but you might feel annoyed or perplexed at the answers – expect the unexpected.

I cannot say anything bad about the acting. Toni Collette’s portrayal of Annie engages in all extremes of the emotional spectrum: comedically cavalier or thrashing in the throes of grief – she convinces you. Gabriel Byrne, as her husband Steve, represents a more introverted despondency that is all the more crushing for being hidden. Annie’s children Peter (Alex Wolff) and Charlie (Milly Shapiro) deliver performances that are soul-crushingly affective. Every character walks with the pall of defeat, drained of colour and optimism and we, the audience, feel similarly defeated; rooting for an unrealistic happy ending. It feels like we are watching their essences being slowly siphoned off leaving hollow vessels in their place.

With very few jump scares and very few instances of gore (though they are quite visceral), Hereditary still proves an unsettling, emotional watch. It might not give you those Paranormal Activity-esque sleepless nights but you may leave feeling a little hopeless. We won’t blame you for keeping tabs on your family either, for the film proves that are worse things in the world than that uncle who gets drunk at the family barbecue and asks intrusive questions.

 

 


Words by JT Early.

3.5/5 stars.

‘Dinner Night.’- By Taeghan Buggy

Frida eyed the instant coffee on the counter with distaste. She’d chosen it especially just to make her lover laugh.

‘Eugh, instant coffee? Tastes like death,’ Death would say, and then they would waggle their eyebrows suggestively until both they and Frida broke into giggles that turned into kisses.

But Frida didn’t feel like kissing right now.

It was her mistake, honestly. She should know better than to look at her clients and make an emotional connection with them. Her job was to toss them, mind and soul, into the void and then leave them; their bodies held somewhere between a shout and a sigh. It wasn’t for her to know if they lived, returning from the void with something more or something less to them, or died. But she’d pitied the last one. She’d liked him even. Her payment for that job had been the instant coffee, the only thing she’d wanted from his apartment. He’d been twenty-two and had felt worn at the edges like an old pair of blue jeans.

But clients died, like he had died, and when you were dating Death, inevitable consequences ended up messily personal.

Frida prodded at the pesto pasta she’d made for dinner. The fork was unenthusiastic in her hands. Pasta tubes flopped over each other in the bowl.

Sometimes she hated being able to see in sundersaatum; the hidden wave of colour on the light spectrum. If she couldn’t see the world through that weird twist of dark-light, she wouldn’t have her job. She wouldn’t have this life where she alone could see the connections that anchored minds and souls to bodies and be able manipulate them. She wouldn’t be able to sever those threads.

Then again, if she couldn’t see in sundersaatum then she never would have fallen in love. She’d never have spent her nights tucked up against Death’s sure, steady, self.

Frida didn’t hear the rattle of keys as Death let themselves into the apartment. The clomping of their work boots on the floorboards was, however, unmissable.

‘Evening lover,’ Death said with a smile that faded as soon as they saw Frida’s expression.

‘Hey, Dee.’ Frida tried to summon a smile but couldn’t. She could barely look her lover in the eye.

Today Death looked like a woman in her thirties; short hair and strong hands. They looked like the kind of person who’d do what needed to be done. Death always did what needed to be done. Death tucked a hand into the pocket of their coveralls, shoulders slumping as they said, ‘This is about that soul of yours today.’

‘Not mine,’ Frida refuted immediately. Sure, she’d split them from their earthy cases, tossed them into the void they’d asked for so badly, and then left – but they weren’t her souls. She couldn’t think of them like that. She prodded the pasta again. It was now lukewarm.

‘Frida, you can’t keep doing this.’ Death said, running a hand through their silvery crop of hair in a way that spoke of frustration. It wasn’t the first time Frida had brought it up and guilt spiked in her stomach. ‘We work the wrong jobs to make it personal.’

‘I know, I know, and I’m sorry. It’s just- I pitied him, Dee. I liked him.’ Frida sighed, ‘It’s just… hard sometimes.

Death went very still.

‘But, not too hard, right?’ Death said carefully.

Frida winced immediately, rushing over to take Death’s hands and squeezing them tight. ‘Dee no, of course not, not like that, no.’

She could just kick herself. Death had a fragile history with commitment. Many flirted with them, but not many actually wanted to stick around. Oh sure, Death kept everyone eventually, but they also lost them in the end.

‘It’s just been a hard week,’ Frida confessed. Misery swelled as she said, ‘I found a message from my mother, she doesn’t know why I don’t come to visit for the holidays anymore.’

Her voice trembled, and tears threatened. It was too hard seeing her family and knowing what she knew now.

‘Oh honey,’ Death said, immediately pulling her into a hug. Frida relaxed into it. Death gave the best hugs. It always felt like they’d never let her go no matter what.

Death ran a thumb under Frida’s eyes, gently wiping away the tears.

‘Okay lover, that pasta’s cold and I think we both deserve some comfort food. Why don’t you settle on the couch and go I’ll order takeout, hey? Sound good?’

Frida nodded into Death’s chest and Death tilted her chin up to press a soft kiss to her lips. About to pull back, Frida’s little job-payment caught Death’s eye. A glimmer of dirty humour grew on the corners of their lips.

‘Is that… instant coffee?’ Death’s disgust was betrayed by the smile they couldn’t quite hide as they said, ‘You know it tastes like Death, right?’

 


Words by Taeghan Buggy

tiggyTaeghan Buggy is a writer, a poet, and a performer. Her work tends towards emotional gut punches and dangerous words. Taeghan’s immersion within ‘Arts Culture’ includes the New Wave Audio Theatre project, Flinders’ Speakeasy Creative Readings, and Adelaide’s open-mic poetry scene. You can find Taeghan on Twitter.