HEREDITARY (Directed by Ari Aster, 127 minutes, USA, 2018)
BY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC Hereditary is the feature length directorial debut from Ari Aster who made a name for himself with a disturbing viral short about a family harboring a dark secret called The Strange Thing About the Johnsons (2011). It is also arguably the best horror in the last five years. Hereditary premiered at Sundance in January, and quickly became the film to see this year for horror fans when the buzz surround it hit a fever pitch with some calling it the scariest horror movie in years. While that sounds a bit like hyperbole, I will say for those that love a dark mix of psychological and supernatural horror, they aren’t that far off.
Hereditary is the story of Ann Graham (Toni Collette), an artist known for creating intricately detailed dioramas, who is struggling to come to terms with the recent loss of her estranged mother Ellen. Towards the end of her life, Ellen developed dementia and lived with Ann, her husband Steve, their son Peter (Alex Wolff) and their borderline autistic daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro). Ellen’s death triggers into motion a bizarre series of events as the family struggles to cope with the matriarch’s death while battling with their own literal demons. When Ann meets a woman dealing with the loss of her son who offers her a chance to speak to the other side, things somehow go from bad to worse as Ann begins to unlock the secrets of her family’s history. Aster has crafted the kind of horror film that weaponizes your own senses against you to devastating effect. The film’s disarmingly gorgeous and surreal cinematography lulls the viewer into a false sense of security, while the jittery soundtrack establishes an underlying sense of unwavering tension, in much the same way that Christopher Nolan employed a ticking clock in Dunkirk to such unnerving effect.
If you removed all the supernatural elements freom Hereditary you would still have an intensely moving story of a family spiraling out of control as they process their grief. This is by and large due Toni Collette whose performance gives the narrative a captivating baseline of reality that locks the audience in before the film brings the supernatural underpinnings to the forefront. Alex Wolff, who starred in Jumanji, paired with the scene stealing newcomer Milly Shapiro bring this cycle to full circle as we can see the heartbreaking toll Ann and her mother’s relationship has had on her children. The film’s nuanced take on family and how we sometimes struggle with those we love the most is a theme that is echoed throughout the film, even in its most sinister moments. Hereditary is a super effective slow burn shocker, a perfect blend of art house sensibilities and transgressive surreal horror that coalesces into a modern classic of the genre.