Starring Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd, Gabriel Byrne. Directed by Ari Aster.
There are two fundamental fears in life that everyone suffers from. One is that all parents secretly want to hurt their children, and the other is that all children secretly want to hurt their parents. Hereditary is one of the finest examples of both sides of this fear coming to life.
First-time director Ari Aster, director of controversial youtube short, The Strange Thing About the Johnsons, brings us this tale of a family in a spiral. Following the death of her “difficult” mother, mother of two and miniature artist Annie (Toni Collette) finds herself unable to deal with her feelings of resentment that stem from unresolved issues with both her mother and her own children.
From the off it’s clear that this is not a typical horror film; while a lot of horror films go for the creepy room followed by a jump, there is less likely to be any heart flutters in Hereditary, and there is more a feeling of slow impending dread.
For Aster, the confidence that stems from this debut feature is clear to see – the style, and the direction is nothing short of incredible. The attention to detail is Kubrick-like in it’s precision. There is nothing in the frame of a scene that isn’t absolutely meant to be there. Marketing has had a tough time selling this movie, pitching it as a haunted house scare-fest, but there is something more to this tale of terror than just things going bump in the night. Much like It Comes At Night or The Witch this is a story filled with atmosphere and character. Unlike last year’s Mother! this is a film that sticks to its guns and makes sense in and of itself.
The cast is universally good, with Toni Collette the solid rock on which the film is built, not since her Oscar-nominated turn in The Sixth Sense has she had a role so worthy of her talents able to be strong and as vulnerable as she wants. One scene in which she berates someone over the dinner table is a masterclass in prolonged resentment in which she still manages to ring a smile from the line “that face on your face”, a truly motherly line of dialogue.
Alex Wolff, who seems to be in everything at the moment, is also good as her son Peter, a teenager who devolves from pot smoking slacker to petulant crying child calling for his mommy. Wolff continues to be one of the best rising stars in cinema and manages to wrangle everything from his role as a child coming undone.
What works particularly about the film is that it begins something more like a drama about grief and loss than anything demonic but builds to a much more intense and crazy ending. There might be a section of the audience that find it too slow, or too intellectual, but once it gets going it turns into a strange yet satisfying trip into madness. The thing with Hereditary is the less you know about the whole thing the better, it’s worth checking out before the insanity of the film is ruined by over analysis.
Paul Klein is a Film Studies Graduate from London, former writer at The Metropolist.