Written by: Ari Aster
Starring: Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd, Gabriel Byrne
Have you ever gone through life feeling you’re not in true control of everything happening around you? A sense of something darker and sinister truly turning the wheels and pulling the strings. An unsettling thought to harbor and one unnervingly extrapolated in the horrifying Hereditary. A meditation on grief with revelations that get more terrifying as the narrative continues to unravel.
Following the funeral of her mother, Annie (Toni Collette) has a hard time reconciling the grief and how it impacts the rest of her family. She starts attending a support group as she feels as if the aura of her mother continues to stick around. Following a horrific incident involving her children, Peter (Alex Wolff) and Charlie (Milly Shapiro), events around her just get weirder and more horrifying.
As a debut feature, Ari Aster should be put in jail for how adept he proved himself to be in this feature. Almost too good to an aggravating degree, which gets established in the very first shot of the film. Opening looking into a dollhouse from afar and then slowly zooming in to show the first character interaction to begin between a father and son. A first impression of the men of this film, but it ultimately becomes about the women. The main perspective we receive in the feature comes from Annie as she tries to hold the remnants of her family together through an incredibly challenging time in her life. This grief becomes incredibly overwhelming and the spooky elements of this feature certainly do not assist in the process.
Hereditary falls in line with a particular set of horror films not really intended for the sensibilities of the casual horror fan. Devoid of many jump scares, it relies more on this sense of atmospheric horror bubbling under the surface to reveal something truly horrifying and what gets discovered in this film does enough to make my skin quiver. It requires patience to piece together everything occurring in the film, but make no mistake, this feature is downright terrifying when it all comes together. The type of frightening effect where it sticks with you long after the final credits roll and the more it stays in your mind, the more unsettled you get with everything happening in the feature.
One of the most terrifying aspects comes from the reality of these characters never really having a choice of being involved with the horrors occurring with the narrative. It goes with the title of the feature and how this family was always meant to be involved with what the matriarch already set in motion. This idea goes against the belief that people can change their destinies and avoid the trappings of their genetic line. A hope individuals with negative family histories cling onto and this film resolutely smashes this into smithereens. As it all comes together, it mixes a level of sadness with horror because these characters never really had a chance.
On a visual level, this film is simply tremendous in executing the horror on display as it settles into the domestic issues at hand. Aster utilizes his camera in devious ways in order to accentuate moments and then hide away things we do not need to see. It became obvious much of it came from feeling the emotions of these characters more so than the action causing them distress. This occurs in a particular driving sequence, which utterly stunned me in the way it just stays on the face of a particular character as they cannot even look to see what occurred behind them. Such a real moment capturing the shock of his actions. Aster proves to be such a fascinating filmmaker in his own demented ways and he continues to prove with Midsommar that all of his films will provide incredible amount of intrigue and be terrifying outside of what the mainstream expects.
As well as the director does with setting everything up, the biggest accolades must go to the acting and Toni Collete in particular. A complete tour-de-force performance by the veteran actor capturing both the intense grief she feels but also the anger that comes with it. I mean, the dinner scene where she releases this pent up aggression alone just drove chills down my spine but also reveals the mindset of this character at the time. Having to juggle the behavior of her kids on top of everything she feels just shows Collette puts in a legendary performance here unlike anything else she has ever produced. Stunning to say the least.
This film does come with its nitpicks including shameless exposition dumps and a few too many plot conveniences, like the one involving cake at a high school party. The importance of the cake’s placement works a bit too well for it to be obvious no high school party would be serving a freshly made cake. However, it can be pushed aside to appreciate the exceptional work on display here. The scares stay with you, which serves as the ultimate compliment to any horror film where most others come with disposable jump scare that can easily be forgotten. A rich tale and one that attempts and succeeds to unnerve and terrify its spectators.