A visceral, emotionally haunting and horrifying psychological horror from the debuting Ari Aster, Hereditary plunges you into grief, family secrets and the terror of what we might inherit from our relatives.
Annie Graham(Toni Collette), a miniatures artist, is mourning the death of her secretive mother. She is joined in this by her therapist husband Stephen( Gabriel Byrne)and their two children; bored and dejected 16-year-old son Peter( Alex Wolff) and unusual tomboy daughter Charlie( Milly Shapiro) . The thing is Annie was estranged from her mother and various things in her past impacted their tenuous relationship. while young Charlie, who was her Grandma’s favourite, begins acting even more strangely than usual. Soon enough, a strange force begins plaguing the family. Though she secretly visits grief counselling for guidance, Annie believes she sees her mother again, Charlie also sees visions of this along with unusual phenomena. Peter buried his feelings in smoking pit and trying to get girls but tragedy brings him back around. Stephen is the main point of attempted calm in a powder keg situation that slowly starts to unravel. It all pertains to the deceased Grandmother, but how does it? As grief and tragedy plunge the family further into turmoil, Annie starts to lose her grip on her sanity and events descend into a waking horror for the Graham’s. Matters aren’t helped by the arrival of Joan(Ann Dowd), a mysterious woman who ingratiates herself into Annie’s life with shocking results.
Ari Aster marks himself out as a director with a future. He’s clearly a guy who loves his spine-chilling, psychological horror and Hereditary is a testament to that. He’s got a fantastic handle over pacing; slowly dropping crumbs of information and things you think are just accidental, but are intentional. It’s a slow burn that’s punctuated by moments of shock horror and extreme situations, while still examining the ups and downs of grief in a bubbling way. Then when we get to the heart of things, all hell breaks loose and Aster unleashes chilling moment after moment. Be warned, the last half an hour is some intense stuff that will make even the most seasoned horror viewer sit up and be freaked out.
You’ll be left with images of great horror and of an unsettling nature once you finish Hereditary. And with good reason as they are plentiful and a credit to the visual team and the exploration by Aster. From slowly zooming camerawork to a mastery over sound( the sound of a tongue clicking will haunt your dreams as will Colette’s roars of grief and an intense dinner scene) , it’s a movie for definite horror fans. The claustrophobic atmosphere, heightened by the abundance of scenes within the family’s large house, helps us ruminate in how grief can isolate is and how familial ties are not always . This film isn’t full of cheap scares as it has more on its mind. Take for instance when Annie believes she sees the ghost of her mother. Most horror films would feature a sudden reveal, not here. Instead, Aster uses a wide shot and gets the audience to really pay attention as to see whether it was real or not, as if daring us not to trust our eyes. I admired Hereditary for the fact it didn’t have to resort to throwaway scares. Hereditary is certainly not for everyone, but for those with a penchant for dramatic scares and unusual imagery, this should be a treat. A rumbling score is the cherry on top of the cake as murmurs, low electronic humming and unusual instances of cacophony blend hauntingly.
One of the finest things in Hereditary is the committed performance from Toni Collette, who turns in some of her finest work. She’s put through the wringer of emotions and just displays them all so convincingly and vividly. From grieving daughter to mentally unstable and all that’s in between, Collette doesn’t miss a beat and often conveys varying feelings within seconds of each other. One can’t stress enough the sheer full throttle force with which she acts here. It has to be seen to be believed and experienced. Gabriel Byrne provides solid support in a role that could have been boring, but rises above such worries. He’s the non believer trying to keep his family together but failing as times passes. Alex Wolff gets the alienated and confused state of mind for his character just right, going between moments of escaping pain to enduring intense suffering that makes no sense to him. Rounding out the family is young Milly Shapiro, who sends shivers down the spine as the daughter seemingly most affected by her grandmother’s death. You never quite know what to make of this little girl but she is damn important to the story. In a small but pivotal role, the ever reliable Ann Dowd exudes an uneasy sense of niceness that is tempered with something that tells you that you can’t trust her as far as you can throw her.
Super unsettling, packed with ideas and thematic value, plus boasting impressive acting and an atmosphere of never ending dread, Hereditary is definitely for those who appreciate a slow burn and a searing drama within a horror movie.