Director: Ari Aster
Writer: Ari Aster
Cast: Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro
Hereditary disorients, unsettles and gets under your skin.
This debut feature from Ari Aster opened to rave reviews on the festival circuit and with good reason. It is an unusual and creepy tale that bucks convention and revels in making its audience uncomfortable. It’s not really clear if there is a main character as the story shifts from the perspective of one family member to another. A highlight of Hereditary is the sensational performance from Toni Collette who becomes certifiably unhinged by the end.
As the name would suggest, Hereditary is about a family. Specifically Annie Graham (Collette), her husband Steve and their two kids Peter and Charlie. The film begins with Annie delivering a eulogy about her recently deceased mother Ellen with whom she had a strained relationship.
Although Ellen has passed, her presence weighs heavily on the Graham household. The family has a history of mental illness and there’s an unspoken tension in the house, as if unresolved conflict regarding Ellen still permeates their thoughts. There’s a suffocating aura that you feel through the screen. Everything and everyone feels off.
The first act of Hereditary I found to be the most disturbing. A lot of it is focused on Milly Shapiro as Charlie. Shapiro is one of those actors who has an interesting face that can hold an audience’s attention, even when doing very little. Although very young, her dark sunken eyes convey a sense of sorrow and darkness well beyond what someone her age should be able to get across. As you would imagine, it’s very unsettling.
At the end of the first act there is an unexpected event. It drew gasps from the cinema audience I was with, after which everyone watched on in total silence at the reaction of the person involved. They gazed ahead, pupils dilated, drawing breath and processing what they witnessed. Its one of the most intense scenes I’ve seen in a film this year.
From there, the film dials up the tension as the Graham family try to unravel the secrets about their lineage and learn the truth about what is happening in their home. For a first time director, Aster is remarkably self assured in his film making style. A lot of Hereditary‘s most disturbing moments that linger long in the mind aren’t traditional horror movie scares. Hereditary just feels malevolent and nihilistic. There isn’t really a protagonist that shines any light in the film. Instead the whole family seem to be hurtling towards oblivion only its hard for the audience to parse just who is responsible and whether the horror is supernatural or psychological.
Hereditary works particularly well thanks to the ever reliable presence of Toni Collette. In the hands of lesser actor, its possible that Hereditary could have stumbled in its final act. But when you have an actor of Collette’s immense talent who is utterly convincing as a shattered soul who is rapidly losing her mind…that’s when the film really goes places and cements itself as one of the best horror films of recent years.