By Jack Dignan
If you combine together the unnervingly violent, supernatural, slowly escalating horror from The Witch with the hypnotic real world suspense from It Comes At Night, you’re left with Hereditary. This is not a film for the faint of heart. It’s a grueling, subtle display of terror that will leave you in hysterics; a film so unrelenting and distressing you’ll never be able to unsee it, and yet it’s also one that will leave you wanting more. This is quite the film. If you’re after your typical jump scare fest, it’s best you leave your expectations at the door. For those after a little more bite, Hereditary has come to fuck you up.
Every family has its secrets. And that couldn’t be truer for the Graham family. When the matriarch of the family passes away, they’re left in a state of emptiness. The house feels cold. There’s something missing. But a deeper evil begins to grow, and when Annie (Toni Collette) struggles to cope with her grief, she looks at new ways of coping. Unfortunately, however, there are some secrets best left hidden in the dark, and as she slowly begins to unravel the past, her family’s fate is put into question.
The less you know about this plot, the better. Hereditary is a somberly paced exploration into grief and the demons we inherit from our ancestors. What begins as an unsettling, but otherwise grounded story soon escalates into a nightmare that will make your skin crawl. First time writer-director Ari Aster understands the core of what makes a horror movie work, utilizing scares from every angle while keeping one foot firmly planted in the realm of realism. You care about these characters. You feel their pain. And yet things continue to get worse.
It’s a similar style of horror to the aforementioned indie darlings It Comes At Night and The Witch. Aster’s screenplay really takes its time in setting up this world and these characters, which feels gruellingly paced in the moment, but leads to a satisfyingly brutal finale that will shake you to your core. Its art-house ways may turn a lot of mainstream viewers off, but for those with patience and a keen eye, Hereditary will soon become one of your favourite modern horror films. I seriously cannot get over the shit that goes down in the final act. Not only is it nightmarish and surreal, but also it raises so many questions that leave this film open to wordy discussion.
Much like the horrors of old, we start out with a strong dramatic edge, led by a sensational lead performance. The Exorcist had Ellen Burstyn. Rosemary’s Baby had Mia Farrow. Hereditary has Toni Collette. The Oscar nominated Australian actor returns to horror for the first time since 1999’s The Sixth Sense, and her performance here is incomparable. Her slow plummet into insanity is provocative and disturbed, and Collette has never been better. This may truly be one of, if not the best performance she’s ever given, which says a lot in a film full of tremendous acting.
Newcomer Milly Shapiro is chilling as the youngest daughter of Collette’s character. She’s a character of few words whose connection to her deceased grandma leads to a number of sequences that can only be described as revolting, but in the best way possible. Even in the scenes she’s not in, her presence is definitely felt, and there’s a scene in a car that’s so shocking and violent and out of the blue that it may prove too much for audiences. But hey, isn’t that the sign of an effective horror movie?
A lot of shit goes down in this movie that I’m unlikely to ever forget. It’s the type of thought provoking horror movie that will leave you stitching together and pieces and unraveling new layers the more you think about it. I want to rewatch it, but I’m also too scared to return to the theatre. There are some very lazy plot reveals that I can’t go into here (one involves a piece of information that characters deliberately don’t look into until much later on in the plot), as well as some very on the nose foreshadowing, but not even Alex Wolff’s distractingly bad crying couldn’t ruin this movie. Hereditary is FUCKED. UP. And I loved it.
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