The less I say about Hereditary, the better, so I’ll try to keep this brief. What’s important is that this stands as one of the best horror movies in years. It moves in unexpected ways, overflows with bonkers great performances, and builds to a genre crescendo that rips out your still-beating heart and shows it to you. Writer/director Ari Aster crafts a creepy, cryptic, moody horror tone poem about coping with grief and loss and family that rattles and shakes in deep, profound ways.
Hereditary focuses on the Graham family—Annie (Toni Collette), Steve (Gabriel Byrne), Charlie (Milly Shapiro), and Peter (Alex Wolff)—following the death of Annie’s mother. Strange things begin to happen, familial secrets come to light, and the more the core mystery unravels, the more twisted it becomes.
An unimaginable tragedy unearths a legacy of horrific family dynamics. And while there are hints and allusions to mystical, potentially supernatural forces at work, the first hour, maybe more, is primarily a slow-burn escalation of just how messed up this family is. Before we get to the more traditional genre markers, Aster creates a horror upon which to pile more horror. While the mood and atmosphere definitely evoke a cinematic dark side, much of the true terror and fright lie in the concrete everyday details.
Everyone in Hereditary is good, but Toni Collette operates on some otherworldly, next-level plane my brain barely comprehends. Contending with the loss of her mother, with whom she had a troubled relationship; dealing with her problematic bond with her own children; fraying into potential madness; and simply spinning off in various ways, she’s fucking mesmerizing. From delicate to distraught, from crushed by grief to haunted by mystery, she’s amazing. I hate the hyperbole of proclaiming award-worthy performances, but if anyone, male or female, turns in a better performance this year, it’s going to be remarkable, because this is one for the ages.
Cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski (TragedyGirls) rarely lets his camera rest. It zooms in and out, pans and wraps and tracks, leaving the audience feeling unmoored and untethered. The unsettling sensation enhances the larger discomfit. As a profession, Annie creates meticulous miniatures—domestic scenes and settings that mirror the tidy, almost austere family home and surroundings. Aster and Pogorzelski stage and film these models in the same way as the normal sets—from the same vantage point, with the same camera moves, using the same lighting. Over the course of the film, the two blur and it’s often uncertain if what we see is real or an intricate recreation. This strategy adds an inventive layer of unreality that deepens the mystery and unease.
Family drama about loss and tragedy folded into supernatural horror; hints and nods and few overt statements; an exquisite mix of skin-peeling tension, heart-pounding dread, jump scares, and gore. Hereditary left me a broken, gooey mess by the end. I’m going to shut up now and tell you to watch this movie. [Grade A]