Hereditary

Studio: A24
Directed by Ari Aster

Jun 08, 2018 Web Exclusive
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Ari Aster’s Hereditary, the writer-director’s feature-length debut, is as assured of a first film as one is likely to come upon. It’s also a worthy entry into the recent golden age of horror filmmaking led by young or first-time directors like Jordan Peele (Get Out), Jennifer Kent (The Babadook), Robert Eggers (The Witch), and Julia Ducournau (Raw). Aster distinguishes his film from the pack by creating a supremely anxiety-inducing experience for viewers, one that starts on what feels like the edge of an abyss and never pulls back.

Hereditary follows Annie Graham (Toni Collette) and her family after the death of Annie’s mother, a woman with whom each family member seemed to have a distinct, and distinctly ambivalent, relationship. As Annie and her children start experiencing strange visions and increasing misfortune, the dead woman’s presence grows and Annie is forced to confront a legacy she’d much rather have ignored.

The film conjures an atmosphere of mourning mixed with the dread of greater mourning to come. This combination of tones feels organic, as Annie’s grief is not over her mother’s death but her worry about the effect her mother has had on her children. Too many films treat sadness and grief as interchangeable emotions; Hereditary plays up other aspects of the cocktail of feelings – like fear – that comprises real grief and gives literal form to that fear. Per the film’s title, one’s genes and the traits passed from one generation to the next are treated as a curse, one that can never be outrun.

As Annie, Toni Collette gives a ferocious performance, one that bounces from defensive to vulnerable, from furious to terrified, in an instant but is never histrionic or cloying. Her unresolvable anguish over a mother whom she may not have loved and her mounting horror at the possibility of having inherited the traits she detested in her mother – or worse, at having passed them onto her children – never falter in their emotional honesty, even as the film enters its overtly supernatural final act. Collette deserves award recognition for her work here, a high point in an already-noteworthy career.

Regarding that final act, it’s the only section of the film that can be categorized as any kind of letdown. Content to let the unceasing tension and well-staged scares do most of the genre-required work for much of the film, the final act introduces plot-driving explanations for the phenomena that are a little too standard issue and that also take away from the free-floating anxiety that characterizes the experience of the preceding 90 minutes or so. That’s not to say that the ending itself is a disappointment; if anything, it’s as scary as the rest of the film and offers some of the movie’s most unnerving images. It just offers answers that are simultaneously unnecessary and too conventional for such an otherwise singular viewing experience.

a24films.com/films/hereditary

Author rating: 8/10

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