This year’s closing night film of the Overlook Film Festival was the highly anticipated feature debut by Ari Aster, Hereditary. Its A24 (The Witch, Green Room, The Blackcoat’s Daughter) pedigree is enough to entice viewers, but the electric buzz coming from both Sundance and SXSW was enough to set horror fans over the edge in anticipation. The intense trailers and marketing have only furthered that to the point of rabid need. But, does it live up to the hype?
Opening with an introduction to the Graham family by way of funeral, namely family matriarch Ellen, her daughter Annie (Toni Collette) barely has it together as it is. Forced to be her mother’s caregiver in her final days, her death brings a wave of guilt and grief compounded by looming deadlines for her miniature art show. While her husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) is supportive, her teen son Peter (Alex Wolff) displays all of the detached resentment of his age. Then there’s Charlie (Milly Shapiro), the 13 year old daughter with antisocial behavior exacerbated by weird quirks and unique art. It doesn’t take long for the grief to give way to the discovery of terrifying secrets about the Graham family history, a cursed terror that takes root and won’t let go.
Aster makes a stunning debut with insane performances by the cast. Collette always impresses, but good grief I will take severe personal issue with the Academy if they don’t take note of her performance here. The range of emotions she imbues Annie with are vast and profound; from grief stricken to unhinged, from protective mother to scared witless, Collette gives a new standard for all mothers in horror from here going forward. Wolff also is tremendous, as the aloof teen with reasons to be so angry, to spiraling out from an inability to cope with forces beyond anyone’s knowledge. Shapiro brings authenticity to Charlie. She’s not playing Charlie as the creepy kid, but rather a very strange girl. It works well.
From stunning cinematography to an effective score and sound design, Hereditary might also be A24’s most commercially appealing horror movie. There are scares and foreboding atmosphere that continue to build throughout; this is far from a slow burn. But I’ll admit, I fell for the hype that this was one of the scariest movies in years. As horror fans, I think we all want to believe it when a film is touted as so freaking scary. I left the theatre not quite agreeing, though. There were some absolutely chilling scares, and sequences that would leave me gripping the edge of my seat in anticipation. Even though it had effectively scared me in parts, I wasn’t sure I agreed wholly with the hype.
But then, the imagery would leave me. That night, the next day, even two days later, I can’t get some of the visuals out of my head. Aster threw in shocking curveballs, most of which now carved out permanent space in the corners of my mind. He further embedded them there by making the Graham family just so human, relatable, and emotionally investing. Take away the horror, and there’s a pure tragedy that’s engaging all on its own, which is what the best horror excels at.
It’s not a flawless film, for all of the high octane bat shit insanity that Aster unleashes in the final act, it slows to a screeching halt in its final moments. That aside, it’s an absolute incredible feature debut from a director I sincerely hope continues his exploration of horror. So drawn into the Graham family’s story that it took days to realize just how much the horror of their situation actually followed me home. It’s still there.
Hereditary will haunt your dreams and theaters on June 8, 2018.