Released June 8, 2018
Rated R – 2hr 7min
Directed by Ari Aster
Starring Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro
When Annie’s (Toni Collette) mentally ill mother passes away, she struggles to cope with the conflicting emotions left in the wake of her loss. There’s little comfort to be found from her emotionally distant husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), apathetic teenage son and pothead Peter (Alex Wolff), or her troubled and socially awkward young daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro), so when she’s not sneaking out of the house to attend grief counseling sessions, she immerses herself in her art – the construction of miniature dioramas. A series of bad decisions and disturbing revelations will push them all to the brink, and then some.
Hereditary is a slowburn/mindfuck combo. It really takes its time in establishing the characters and situations – with a few changes, this could be a two-hour dysfunctional family drama. In the second half though, it just rips its more mundane sensibilities to shreds, opting for an escalating tone of gonzo batshittery. This all kicks off with ‘The Scene’ – you’ll know what it is when you get there.
It’s extremely difficult to believe that this is Ari Aster’s first directorial effort. The attention to detail – not unlike Annie’s meticulous dollhouse-esque art – is exceptional and his command of tone and atmosphere – from initially unsettled and awkward to oppressively dreadful – has him playing in the master class of horror with his inaugural feature film. There are, however, some pacing issues to nit-pick and his control of presenting the story gets shakier as the movie careens toward a thoroughly WTF ending, but I personally am excited to see what he does next.
More impressive than Aster though is Toni Collette’s no-holds-barred throw-the-fuck-down tour-de-force performance as Annie Graham. She starts out calm and collected, yet vaguely unsettled, much like the film itself. As it goes on though, she’s devoured by her considerable inner demons and deftly reflects the change in Annie with each successive bite they take. It’s a horror performance for the ages. Wolff and Shapiro both do commendable jobs as her afflicted children (Gabriel Byrne is largely wasted as a shrug of a character), but this is Collette’s movie, and she owns the hell out of it.
So, was it enjoyable? Nope. This is not a ‘snuggle on the couch with a date’ sort of horror movie. It’s not a popcorn flick. More disturbing than scary, Hereditary wants you to hurt right along with its family of the doomed. It’s very good, which is great for a film that ends in a smoldering heap of a proverbial train wreck. That ending though – I think I know what it was going for, but Hereditary plays its cards so close to the vest that I’m just guessing and that’s a frustrating note to end on. It’s fine for a story to be a riddle, but outsourcing the narrative effort to the audience is a tough act, and it doesn’t quite nail it.
So if slowburn and psych thrillers are your thing, Hereditary will be worth your while, even if it isn’t a good time.
Collette gets an A while the movie gets: