Hereditary - Review
What defines us? Are we completely in control of our own actions, or are we simply pawns playing out grief, pain, and abuse inherited from our parents or grandparents? The emotionally harrowing film Hereditary explores these questions but wraps its themes in a supernatural horror genre. And I think it’s appropriate to say here that, HOLY CRAP This film scared the EVER LOVING BAJEESUS out of me! I’m not a wimp when it comes to scary movies, but seriously, Hereditary is really scary.
The Graham family seems a normal everyday family. As the film opens Annie (Toni Collette – CAA|Finley Management|United Management, AU) is preparing for her estranged and emotionally abusive mother’s funeral. This recent loss is affecting her family in different ways, her son Peter (Alex Wolff – CAA|Untitled) is acting out like a normal teenager, smoking pot and trying to deal with a crush at school. Her daughter Charley (Milly Shapiro – Abrams Artists) is acting a little more disturbed, drawing creepy things and cutting the heads of birds. While Steve (Gabriel Byrne – Paradigm|The Agency, UK) her husband who desperately tries to keep the family together as Annie starts to unravel mentally. And what does Joan (Ann Dowd – Innovative|Principal Entertainment) a mysterious member of a grief support group have to do with any of this? Just when you think you have a handle on what genre the film is playing with, it goes in a completely different direction, making the viewer uneasy. I’m not going to summarize any more, because doing so would give too much away. The film works best the less you know about it.
Toni Collette gives a tour de-force performance as a woman ping ponging between abject terror, insanity, grief, and caring mother. It’s an effortless devastating performance that in anyone else’s hands could have been overdramatic and campy. But her work here is so grounded that you really feel for her. I’m willing to bet she’ll be nominated for an Oscar next year. Alex Wolff and newcomer Milly Shapiro are perfect in their roles. Shapiro in particular gives a truly unnerving and haunting performance, but Wolff has the harder role to play and he brings an intensity here that is tricky to pull off. Gabriel Byrne is great as a normal guy trying to keep it together for the people that he loves, and Ann Dowd is fantastic as well and you’re never quite sure if she can be trusted.
It’s hard to pull off a film that operates like a nightmare and first time feature writer/director Ari Aster (WME|Kevin Rowe) keeps everything completely and utterly unsettling from frame one. He uses long takes, tracking shots, and odd framing throughout the film to keep you on your toes. Even Toni Collette simply giving the eulogy for her dead mother is scary – and that’s before anything scary has actually happened! Aster doesn’t rely on jump scares, but they’re in here too and they work. But make no mistake the film is chock full of haunting, terrifying images that I don’t think I’ll be able to scrub from my brain ever again. Particularly in the final thirty minutes there are moments in the film that are creeping me out just thinking about them. That’s the hallmark of an excellent horror film. Aster is a talent to keep your eyes on as he’ll be a next level director in no time. The sound design needs to be called out as well – as the film makes a clucked tongue the sound of impending dread.
Hereditary explores the nature of insanity and grief in the dressing of a horror film. It plays similarly to films like The Exorcist, The Omen, and The Shining. This film is so creepy that even the sight of wallpaper is a source of dread. This is an excellent film that I will never, EVER, see again (no, seriously, this gave me nightmares).
Four out of four stars.