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Thursday
Jun072018

Review: "Hereditary"

by Chris Feil

Hereditary gives so much: a bold lead performance from Toni Collette, genuine skin-crawling scares, and a stream of ominously manicured imagery to obsess over on multiple viewings. And yet its mightiest power is how and when it withholds. Layers revealed in its central family mystery only yield more questions and terrifying unreconciled implications on its descent into madness. You think at first the film is keeping you at arm’s length, when really it is picking you up by the shoulders and placing you down precisely where it knows it will unnerve you most. Letting it get its sadistic claws on you is simply one of the year’s essential cinematic experiences.

The feature debut of writer/director Ari Aster, Hereditary is uncommonly patient in delivering on its horrific promises. The film is less of a slow burn than an enticing bear trap, meditatively luring the audience with all of its pieces before suddenly closing its jaws on us with furious velocity. But that’s the thing about nightmares: rarely do they announce their punishment immediately. Hereditary is as wise and calculating as a demon ready to pounce.

The film begins with the death of the family matriarch Ellen, at once its most unknowable element and a dominating presence throughout. The immediate blasé fallout suggests a family dynamic already somewhat on the edge: an embittered estrangement from her daughter Annie, a favored and isolated granddaughter Charlie, a burnout grandson Peter, and little room to be made for son-in-law Steve among the intergenerational tensions. But as Annie copes with her grief and lingering grudges, the family must suddenly reckon with an otherworldly force invading their home. To say much more would be disservice to a narrative designed to disarm you by taking you into the unexpected.

What Hereditary has in store for the audience is one long dark night of the soul. While it delivers a visceral, almost surreal ride, its effectiveness comes from how it adeptly examines a rotting suburban American state of mind. Aster has given us a horror film that is part Greek theatre, part treatise on the nuclear family unit, and genuine tragedy.

Plenty of comparisons to legendary all-timer horror films have already been made, and the hyperbole is excusable considering the nuance beneath the film’s implacable nature. But along with the horror highs are shades of Bergman and von Trier-ian emotional extremity, and the grim wit of Lanthimos - the formally brilliant quotient is high. The film is a peer to the best of recent intense dramas, rather profound in the way it details the way family pressures and expectations manifest into internalized traumas. And we are all too powerless to overcome, our futures written for us in blood. We are the haunted house.

Annie is a new calling card for Toni Collette, an inarguable and gobsmacking benchmark for the actress. Much can, will, and should be made of the heights she charges toward in operatic fashion, but Collette’s power is how rooted she is in a believable reality just as Hereditary becomes more and more outlandish. There are barely contained resentments, troublesome ambivalences about motherhood and mental health, and regretful affection all tied into one tidal wave of a performance. It’s not just the crazier elements that Collette is sinking her teeth into, it’s the humanity of Annie’s tragic unraveling as well.

Elsewhere, Annie’s children are played to unsettling effect by Alex Wolff as Peter and Milly Shapiro as Charlie. Wolff is maybe the film’s riskiest performance, purposefully histrionic and archetypal to kabuki extremes - think Shelley Duvall in The Shining as a reference point. Shapiro is both heartbreaking and disturbing, both the film’s one true innocent and its harbinger of doom. Byrne is the film’s only vacuum as the father, with too little to do even past the intention of this in the role. As great as ever, Ann Dowd is there, but one absolutely should not tell you why she is there.

The film remains as audacious as its key player Collette, giving a slew of nifty visual tricks and wild turns. And yet to call the film unhinged would be off-base considering the impressive control Aster maintains throughout, particularly when its family comes undone. In an era of impressive feature horror debuts, his is among the most formidable. Hereditary is a distinct vision, precise and direct as it broods over slippery human natures.

It’s a unique experience to be at once thoroughly fascinated and pinned to your seat in fear, and that is precisely why Hereditary is so special. What does Hereditary find the most terrifying? The inherent unknowability of those who are supposed to be closest to us, and what they have instilled in our bones. Rest assured, this won’t satisfy everyone’s taste for a frightening time at the movies. But damned if it isn’t one of the year’s very best films.

Grade: A-

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Reader Comments (16)

Wow. I seriously need to see this.

June 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMe34

So freaking excited to see this!!

June 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPeter

Seeing it this weekend.

June 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRdf

I read the first few sentences & then stopped. I want to see the movie as freshly as possible. I'm really excited about it!

June 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRob

The trailer looks very promising

June 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

No matter how many silkwood showers I took, the ickiness of the film still clings onto me. It’s truly upsetting with a tour-de-force performance from Collette. Definitely not for people who wants jump scares after jump scares.

June 9, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterLars

I cannot wait to see this. My close friend saw this last night and said she hated it, but when I talked to her today, she said that she couldn't stop thinking about it when she got home and hates it more because it has scared and disturbed her so much. That to me is high praise!

June 10, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterfilmboymichael

I’m not reading any reviews, lest I stumble across a spoiler but I can’t wait to see this.

I was sold at Toni Collette, tour de force and horror. Even if it doesn’t lead to awards, hopefully it’ll lead to a raised profile and more roles for Colette.

June 10, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMikeyC

I wanted to like this, and still might, but I'm really struggling with the ending. I don't think it makes much sense? Or rather, it undermines a lot of what comes before and doesn't really add up. Maybe it's my fault for expecting evil to be linear.

June 10, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDave S.

It has a twisted trapped in Hell ending. But the movie collapses on arrival in its third act. Toni's work definitely warrants a sophomore nod. Yet the whole thing is a third act short of a classic.

June 10, 2018 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

Really loved most of it and was especially impressed by how willing it was to challenge our perceptions of what kind of pace a movie like this should have.

SPOILERS AHEAD

But I do have a question: what exactly happens to Collette's character in the last 1/4 of the movie. One minute she seems like her normal human, albeit hysterical self in the house, and the next time we see her she's a...floating ghost? A supernatural being? When and how exactly did this transformation take place? I feel like I either missed something or the film glossed over something (or cut a scene that it actually needed).

June 11, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

Wow. This writeup encapsulates the perfection of this movie for me. Regarding the last three posts -- I interpreted Collette's up and down antics at the end as the supernatural familial forces moving through her while not being pure evil, as had been demonstrated in the grandmother, then moving to the son in the end. When she read her mother's note about protecting her, it was protecting her against the devil's influence, and yet she still had that powerful connection to the spiritual world. She was learning how to interpret that, yet lacked the power to control her connection to the spiritual/devil world. Ultimately she fought with the same supernatural forces as her son, but he was to become the true vessel of the satanic spirit, thus the ending...

June 12, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRyGuy

Very promising beginning but, yeah, the payoff wasn't there. It's worth seeing for Collette alone, though.

June 12, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBD

DJDeeJay - It's very subtle, but once Dr. Graham goes up in flames, and Annie is reacting in sheer terror, we see that blue-ish light pass over her, and her expression immediately changes.

This is to indicate that the demon Paimon has (temporarily) possessed her body, and that what has just happened was precisely it's plan all along.

June 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRob

@Rob - thank you! Totally missed that, as I was obviously looking at the giant fireball man.

June 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

who really cares what any of this is about or what it's supposed to mean. I was suspicious but now
I'm absolutely convinced that all the supposed pro movie reviewers are paid by the studios. I've been had by more than my share of bad movies with good reviews but this is a complete heist !!
This movie is SO BAD !! I'm wondering how many actresses passed on this before Toni Collette's
agent conned her into this role, or was she just that desperate for a part. Not only is there nothing scary about this movie, it just get dumb where the suspense ends and the "horror" is supposed to kick in and gets worse as it progresses until it seals it fate in the halls of stupidity.

June 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJMW

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