Following the passing of her secretive and distant mother, Annie (Toni Collette) and her family struggle to come to terms with a haunting past that won’t rest. Tragedy strikes the family time and time again, and an evil force grows in power as Annie starts to withdraw from reality.
We were promised the scariest movie of all time, a modern classic, an event that will keep us awake at night forever. Few horror movies have been hyped in recent times like Hereditary – the trailer has been playing everywhere for months and its release comes at a perfect time (between annual dumps of Marvel and Star Wars movies). The trailer was disturbing, even for a horror movie, but still blended the usual collection of shock factor moments. I believed the hype.
What we got was something slightly below expectations, but admirable nonetheless. A well weighted story, the plot shoots for disturbia over jump scares, sitting it above other recent efforts such as A Quiet Place. That’s where Hereditary really flourishes – it’s just creepier than most off the conveyor belt. It felt pain stakingly assembled, like the miniature sets protagonist Annie (a peerless Toni Collette) handcrafts, every disturbed, grotesque moment made with our frightened faces in mind. Hereditary at its core is a wracking tale of guilt that descends into madness. The film excellently captures this spiral, painting a picture in tears and fears of a family’s slow descent into the pit of remorse and loss. And then the shocking finale takes all the metaphorical ties to the real world and decapitates them. Pulling the rug from under our feet may have put other viewers off – I thought it was a bold move that reminds us that people are capable of even more hellacious things than insanity.
As mentioned before, Toni Collette makes this movie her own. Her portrayal of fragile protagonist Annie teeters on raving, but always keeps us anchored in the ‘why’. She isn’t just a shrill tool to advance the plot – we feel every drop of pain she does. Her tolerant but dull husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) never really opens his eyes to the horrors growing around him, which acts as the perfect foil to Annie’s paranoia. The two children, Peter (Alex Wolff) and Charlie (an impressive debuting Milly Shapiro) do very well in challenging roles, bringing us into their world of vulnerability as their parents fall to pieces in the face of grief unending.
For a feature film debut, director-writer Ari Aster excels in offering intelligence and restrained horror over cheap thrills. The camera work is wonderful, reminiscent of European cinema, especially the works of Bergman. The score is a slow burning creeper and the special effects are restrained, with nothing ridiculous attempted to break the spell we are placed under. My only criticism is length – at two hours, the film lacks the pacing and suspense build so vital to horror cinema, with parts sagging into mundanity, meaning tension has to be built from scratch again. Luckily, this isn’t a problem for Hereditary.
Ultimately, Aster weaves themes of mental illness and the occult together excellently, delivering a film that leaves us baffled as to where metaphor ends and the true horror begins.
A slow burning haunt, the film sags in parts but finishes strong with a spectacularly terrifying end. 8/10.