Alex Wolff, Gabriel Byrne, Toni Collette, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd
R for horror violence, disturbing images, language, drug use and brief graphic nudity
Buy on DVD/Blu-ray
After a seven-year career as a short filmmaker, Ari Aster has made the transition to features with this chilling and unexpected horror gem. Hereditary is the story of a mother dealing with grief over the death of her own mother while her family struggles with her increasing paranoia.
Toni Collette stars as Annie Graham, a miniaturist artist who has been trying to overcome her extreme bouts of depression. After some potentially violent outbursts, her subsequent recovery has come under pressure with the passing of her mother. As numerous strange events begin to swirl around her and her family, the paranoia and supernatural undertones begin chipping away at her fragile facade, pushing her towards a relapse that could be potentially devastating.
The film is broken into three incredibly distinct acts. The first act ends with an entirely unexpected twist that redefines the second third of the film. It then swerves even further off course in the last third. Each of these course corrections is expertly handled, driving the audience crazy with anticipation for what bizarre thing will happen next and how to connect everything together once the credits roll.
For her part, Toni Collette dominates the film like great actresses should. Her gradual descent into madness is convincing, frightening, and intense. Collette embraces the madness, humility, and gruesomeness of her character and the events surrounding her to carve out a riveting portrayal.
While Collette moves to the beats of the film, her terrified family, encapsulated by the horrified and frightened performance of Alex Wolff as her son and the remorseful and uncertain character presented by Gabriel Byrne as her husband. Only Milly Shapiro, who plays Annie’s daughter, doesn’t give in to the lunacy around her. Shapiro plays the disconnected teen with quiet, emotionless zeal.
Director Ari Aster, who wrote the screenplay for this film, does a tremendous job keeping the moving parts together. Even when the film seems to veer off course, the resultant events flow naturally into each other, creating a surprisingly fluid and compelling narrative framework.
This a film that knowingly toys with horror convention. Pulling inspiration from predictable sources, such as Roman Polanski’s seminal achievement Rosemary’s Baby, to unlikely influences like Children of the Corn, which the first act takes some minor inspirations from. Even with these prior cinematic accomplishments as a guide, the structure, twists, and turns of the film are uniquely Aster’s. Hereditary feels at once influenced and influential.
Modern horror, once removed from the sensationalistic scares of the Paranormal Activity and Conjuring films, has been in a renaissance period for a few years now. Hereditary continues the reformation of the genre as part of a collection of artistically resonant and chillingly adroit pictures that take their influence from the greatest films the genre has ever offered and then forges their own inventive paths.
Oscar Prospects (Predicted Prior to Oscar Nominations)
Unlikelies: Actress (Toni Collette)
February 15, 2019