Release: 8th October 2018
Format: BR / DVD
When Ellen, the matriarch of the Graham family, passes away, her daughter Annie (Toni Colette) and her husband (Gabriel Byrne) and their two children begin to unravel cryptic and increasingly terrifying secrets about their ancestry. The more they discover, the more they find themselves trying to outrun the sinister fate they seem to have inherited. Making his feature debut, writer-director Ari Aster unleashes a nightmare vision of a domestic breakdown that exhibits the craft and precision of a nascent auteur, transforming a familial tragedy into something ominous and deeply disquieting, and pushing the horror movie into chilling new terrain with its shattering portrait of heritage gone to hell.
Stanley Kubrick once said that he found ghost stories hopeful because it presented an idea that there is an afterlife. Ari Aster seems intent on a taking an altogether nihilistic angle on this argument; there might be a spirit world, but it is a terrifying place and we cannot do anything about it. Welcome the brooding, oppressive, soul sucking menace of Hereditary.
Whether it is an allegory for the fear of inheriting mental illness, a commentary on the angst of parent / child misalignment, a musing on the trappings of prodigious expectations, or just some freaky-ass sequel to Rosemary’s Baby, one thing is for sure; Hereditary is the best horror you’ll have seen in a long time. Yes, there have been films such as Get Out and The Witch, but the former is more like an episode of The Twilight Zone and the latter, folklore. Hereditary is a straight up, creeping, nightmare inducing knife slice to the jugular. Here is a film so utterly terrifying that it has gained comparisons to the likes of The Exorcist. And with good reason. Hereditary is an all-out assault on the psyche. It plays with themes of control (or lack thereof), mercurial reality and voyeurism. The ever-present use of doll houses and miniatures sets out an aesthetic that adds to this labyrinthian reality plucked straight from the mind of M. C. Escher.
Hell, when a filmmaker can turn the noise of a tongue clop into the equivalent of the Jaws theme, then you know they’ve done something special.
There are plenty of things that help Hereditary along besides some great storytelling. Grace Yun’s production design is second-to-none. Her seamless melding of interiors and exteriors offers a subliminal sense of nature invading the home and vice versa; which plays beautifully in to the film’s paganist elements. Colin Stetson’s score is in the Johnny Greenwood school of floor to ceiling soundscape; and to great effect. Then, of course, are the central cast. Toni Collette and Alex Wolff do a lot of the heavy lifting, and to great effect, with each having their standout moment. Newcomer, Milly Shapiro is at once sympathetic and unsettling as odd-duck Charlie. Whether or not Shapiro was cast due to her bone condition – although it is not explicitly encouraged – is an odd feeling as an audience member to be unsettled by. This is one of Hereditary’s icky moments in that is presents a troubling moral complexity; running on the age old convention that disfigured people should be feared or pitied. It is something no one seems to be talking about, but it is too obvious to be coincidence. She is great none-the-less and holds her own among some of these heavyweights.
The rest of the film’s cast, in particular Ann Dowd, all add subtle flavours to this stomach-churning broth.
Hereditary does not have many undoings, and in fact only gets better as it spirals in to the lunacy of its closing moments, but is does have some shortcomings. First is the fact that the plot offers little to no information. This is the sort of film you have to watch, bone up on, and then watch again; making it a frustrating first viewing. Second, because it is so utterly creepy, plucking up the courage for said repeat viewing might be a tall order for some. Third, is that it is a tad melodramatic in places with a lot of shouting and crying. Although not a glaring issue, it does cheapen some of the film’s subtler moments. Hereditary clearly has the likes of Rosemary’s Baby, Don’t Look Now and The Shining as its models, but unlike these titans of cinema, Heredtiary slips in to farce a little easier. Or least fails to set up the right tone to cushion the blow of these hammier moments when they arrive.
Aside from these minor quibbles, Hereditary is an exciting and promising slice of cinema that should not only further the desire for forbearing horror, but also prove to be a template for fledgling and established filmmakers alike. It is a refreshing experience as an audience member to not be treated like an idiot. Sometimes less is more, and it could be argued that never has a filmmaker created so many nightmares with so little. Just the simplicity of good lighting and a focus pull.
Film Grade: A-
A short but half decent Making Of and Deleted Scenes that mostly consist of Gabriel Byrne knicking on doors.
Special Features Grade: C-
Maybe not a modern classic per se, but easily a scorcher of a debut feature.