After Get Out and A Quiet Place, we've got a taste for the modern horror classic. Hereditary, if it's lucky, might be next. While the first two brought fresh takes to the genre with their social commentary and technical brilliance, Hereditary is a more traditional horror film. But with its finely crafted characters and tragic events from the apparently deranged mind of first-time director Ari Aster, it will stand out as a horror show about the worst nightmare of all: family.
In a brilliant performance, Toni Collette stars as Annie Graham, an artist confused about how to grieve over the death of her mother, who tormented her as a child and subsequently tried the same with the grandchildren. Annie did her best to prevent it, but failed to some degree with her troubled daughter Charlie, played by Milly Shapiro.
It's the family aspect that makes the supernatural mystery of Annie's past both relatable and twisted, with touchy topics like the birth of unwanted children and a mother's complicated love cracked open for a traumatized child to hear. It explores baggage, both what your parents lay on you and what you bring to your own children.
There's also your basic gore, dead people and strings-based soundtrack. Director Aster is so good he makes an innocuous chair creepy. He also doesn't shy away from using staples of the horror genre, from pagan shrines and seances to strange foreign languages scribbled on the walls. It's just that Aster takes those horror tropes and dusts them off.
Among the long creepy shots, a la It Follows, as well as a literal cabin in the woods next to where the Grahams live, Aster's character moments stand out. The miniature models Annie builds of scenes in her own life, including the art museum her exhibit will eventually be installed in, reveal the real-life demons she can't escape, consuming her time and wearing her down physically and mentally. Equally impressive is when that's reversed and we see her life playing out with the camera framing scenes like miniatures.
Annie copes with the support of her loving, calm and intellectual husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne). Meanwhile her son, Peter (Alex Wolff), is a classic stoner teenager who rubs her the wrong way. This leads to a scene at the dinner table that will strike terror into the heart of anyone who's had a family argument over their peas and steak. It explodes out of one tiny comment, and Collette delivers all of that complicated emotion then and throughout, at turns playing stubborn, pleading, caring and traumatized.
It's not all doom and gloom. There are dashes of weird and funny moments mixed into the steaming witch's pot. A student at the kids' school whips his phone out to film another student's fit, which is both disturbing in its own right and a nice touch.
Hereditary takes witchcraft and psychological horror and makes it about family. The mix of realistic drama and demented supernatural can be laughable in some scenes, but it's all hammered in with moments of horrible tragedy that wouldn't hurt so much if the characters weren't so complicated and real.
Hereditary creeps into cinemas June 8 in the US, June 7 in Australia and June 14 in the UK.
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