Ari Aster’s Hereditary tells the story of a family who, as the film opens, is burying the matriarch who has passed away. Annie’s (Toni Collette) mother had lived her last years at Annie’s home along with Annie’s husband, Steve (Gabriel Byrne) their son, Peter (Alex Wolf) and daughter, Charley (Milly Shapiro). Peter is a normal high school student but Charley is clearly an odd one. She looks and acts odd, clicking her tongue and making little dolls out of anything she finds. It also includes her cutting the head off birds to make her art of the macabre. If that was not enough she is highly allergic to peanuts.
Everything that happens in Hereditary is a build up and disregard nothing you see. Every detail in this film has its purpose within the context of the story. A lot of people have complained about the pacing of Hereditary but once again, this is part of the appeal for me, anyway, of this film. You will notice I have not divulged any of the plot except to say that once Annie’s mother is buried, strange, terrifying and devastating things begin to happen to the family. Things happen that cannot be explained and I will just leave it at that. The less you know the better, at least I hope so. If I had to compare this film and its add campaign it would be to last year’s It Comes at Night. They have both been marketed as horror films but for me, both films are not what I would call horror films. I guess we could blame the studios for the marketing discrepancy. These are more psychological thrillers than anything else but both are extremely effective, especially Hereditary.
One thing you have to be ready for if you are going to watch Hereditary is that this is a slow boil. The first two-thirds of the film are set-up for the final act which is one of the creepiest and unsettling finales I have seen in a long time. Only A Quiet Place from a couple of months ago can match the sheer fright that Hereditary delivers. You have to know what you are getting into before you watch this film, as it is not for everybody. But simply put, Hereditary is a terrific film with excellent performances by everyone in the family, especially by Toni Collette who has been bandied about as a possible Oscar contender. Her performance is nothing short of amazing.
The film was written and directed by newcomer Ari Aster, a man who, up until this point, has only written and directed seven or eight films, all of which were shorts. This is his first big screen film and what an introduction to his talents we have received. He has created a beautifully diabolical world and dropped this family smack dab in the middle of it. No one seems to be spared the ramifications of their hereditary past, as you will see. What makes this film work is the amazing craftsmanship that Aster has used to create this film. It is beautifully shot and the lighting and editing is spot on to match the stunning cinematography. Aster has the faith in his material and in the audience to let the film unravel and for us to stick with it.
Hereditary can be said is an observation of mental illness, as more than a couple of people have mentioned. I would agree with that but for me, it was a bit more about grief mixed with mental instability and a rather toxic relationship with one’s mother that set this film’s tone. The mind begins to play tricks on the family, despite Steve’s best intentions to keep the family together as well as his own sanity. As Hereditary unfolds, the stranger and more terrifying secrets are revealed and the film begins to make more sense but it never loses its energy of fright. As with John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place, Hereditary joins my list as one of the best films of the year.
Hereditary – **** 3/4 out of 5
Hereditary – Rated R for graphic violence, gore, nudity, language and scenes of terror
Hereditary – Run time is 127 minutes
Hereditary is now playing in theaters. Check your local listings for times and locations nearest you.