Director: Ari Aster
Length: 127 minutes
American horror cinema has undergone a minor renaissance thanks to A24, the distribution company behind The Witch (2015), Green Room (2015), It Comes At Night (2017), and The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017). Their latest feature is Hereditary, the debut feature of 31-year-old writer-director Ari Aster.
Hereditary opens with a funeral. Ellen, the matriarch of the Graham family, has passed away and the movie centres on her daughter, Annie. Annie (Toni Collette), who specialises in making miniature sculptures of moments in her life, lives with her husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), her teenage son Peter (Alex Wolf), and her young daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro). Annie and Ellen were not on speaking terms, and the only member of the family taking Ellen’s passing hard is shy Charlie. When another family tragedy occurs, Annie attends a séance with Ellen’s friend Joan (Ann Dowd). Not only does Annie uncover dark secrets about her late mother, but Peter starts to act out at home in disturbing ways.
A lot of dark and supernatural things happen during the final half hour of Hereditary, including a big twist at the end. You may not understand the twist immediately when the movie is over, but if you pay full attention to the movie’s first 10 minutes you’ll be able to tie together the loose ends. Aster is very careful in how he pieces everything together. Hereditary is a film that demands a second viewing.
Then there is the tone; Aster (who cites Mike Leigh as one of his directing inspirations) has made a crowd-pleasing haunted house movie that deals with the horrors of family trauma, guilt, domestic tension and betrayal, and the incredible ensemble bring these issues to haunting life. A dinner table scene, where Annie unleashes her frustrations of on her teenage son, is a very intense moment that doesn’t rely on gore or jump-scares. Aster also manages to pay homage to his influences (the Graham’s are based in a house in the woods, and Annie’s miniature models could be a reference to The Shining) while creating something that is his own.
Toni Collette is haunting. Yes, we have seen her in The Sixth Sense, but has ever played the “scream queen” in a horror movie before? If she has, I have not seen it. She is truly amazing as Annie. Her dinner table scene should be her Best Actress clip for the upcoming awards season.
This is an impressive and well executed horror film. While there are several familiar horror tropes (a funeral, the possessed child) and some moments of the horror feel unintentionally silly (Alex Wolf’s crying sound sounded false), it’s good to see a character-driven horror movie by a young director who clearly knows the history of the genre. This movie is not to be missed.