Review by Owen Herman
In recent years there have been several memorable debut features in the horror genre. Ari Aster continues this trend with the terrifying Hereditary. Chronicling the slow and painful collapse of a tight-knit family, Hereditary plays with both real and supernatural horrors and creates a palpable atmosphere of dread that, in the best way possible, makes the film almost hard to watch.
Toni Collette shines as Annie Graham, an artist painstakingly recreating moments from her life in miniature form. The film starts with the funeral for Annie’s estranged mother. It quickly becomes clear that Annie’s mother had an interest in the spiritual and a suspicious relationship with Annie’s daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro). Soon the family appears to come under threat by sinister forces, bringing out feelings of guilt and paranoia that begin to drive the family apart and reveal long hidden secrets.
The film builds a sense of unease that never lets up. It is a remarkable piece of technical filmmaking, achieving its unsettling atmosphere through framing, camera movement, and sound. Each frame is filled with details and scares sometimes lay hidden in the background waiting for you to notice them. Aster and cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski use wide angles and camera movements that mimic someone viewing the events from outside, as if the film is taking place within one of Annie’s miniature creations. As with any horror film, sound is key and Hereditary gives another strong score and disconcerting noises; anyone clicking their tongue from now on will send shivers down my spine.
As previously mentioned, Toni Collette is superb, giving a multi-layered performance as the complicated Annie. Milly Shapiro gives a very memorable performance in her first film and challenges Millicent Simmonds (A Quiet Place) to the best performance by a Milly on her debut in a 2018 horror film. Alex Wolff and Gabriel Byrne complete the Graham family, as Annie’s son and husband respectively. Byrne gives a subtler but equally expert performance as the sceptic of the family, slowly losing patience with his wife as her actions become increasingly erratic. Wolff steals several scenes, convincingly portraying pure terror in a brilliantly disturbing manner.
Hereditary is a film that embraces its influences and uses them to make something new and exciting. Many have drawn comparisons to Rosemary’s Baby, The Shining, and The Exorcists, but it is also worth noting how it builds dread like It Follows and The Witch, and there is a moment that echoes Ben Wheatley’s disturbing hitman horror Kill List. Although its influences are clear, Hereditary is still unique and fresh, and it deserves to stand among the very best of the genre.