The death of a family matriarch sets in motion a slew of supernatural disturbances that excavate sinister secrets.
Like many others, I was enticed to see Hereditary, the 2018 release written and directed by Ari Aster, due to the electric buzz and momentum it had been gaining from festivals and early assessments. The film may not be a game changer in its basic premise, but the difference lies in the individual that lenses it.
What Aster has given us is a personal, morose, invasive aura that uncomfortably sinks its way into the viewer not long after it opens. Where this movie directs its focus is on its characters. The elusive puzzle that many filmmakers have failed to decipher with the horror genre this century is where the real fear comes from in their storytelling. Is it from jump scares? Is it gory and shocking imagery? Is it the sight of a demon or a monster? The question that has somehow eluded the majority of them is: the main characters?
The three questions preceding this very question I posed become the by-product of this one. The characters in Hereditary are in a horrendous place mentally and emotionally. These are three-dimensional human beings with baggage, trauma and tonnes of anxiety. I was able to comprehensibly feel the gravity and the weight of what each of the characters are going through and, as a result, the more clichéd moments like the Ouija board scene felt less clichéd, and the horrifying moments become even more tumultuous and frightening.
The performances in this movie are nothing short of exceptional. Toni Collette gives one of the best performances of the year as Annie. She is scary, she is vulnerable, and she authentically maternal, giving us a character who cares deeply for her family but who can also vehemently tear someone’s guilt open like she does with Alex during the intense as hell dinner scene.
She’s a fascinating protagonist whos downward spiral is so convincingly conveyed by Collette. Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff and Millie Shapiro equally deliver great work in their roles.
The atmosphere Aster creates is one of palpable dread, and the movie never makes you feel safe for even a minute. The editing and set design also make up such an intelligent aesthetic. Annie’s miniature design occupation feeds into the film's transitions and cinematography, and some shots are focused in such a way that it looks like a lot of the locations appear like miniatures themselves.
You could go into detail about a higher power manipulating the characters but I’m content with the mystery of it. I hold few faults with Hereditary. Alex Wolff is particularly apocryphal when he cries, but he makes up for it with his physical performance. Visually stunning, aesthetically ingenious, musically unsettling, and powerfully acted, Hereditary locks you in and delivers an experience akin to very few I’ve seen in recent memory. Definitely worth a look
Written by Seán Mac G.