Hereditary review Toni Collette Milly Shapiro Alex Wolff Gabriel ByrneYear: 2018
Director(s): Ari Aster
Writer(s): Ari Aster
Region of Origin: USA

Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1
Rating: R
Digital, Color, 127 mins

Synopsis: When the matriarch of the Graham family passes away, her daughter’s family begins to unravel cryptic and increasingly terrifying secrets about their ancestry. (Source)

It’s gonna sound like hyperbole to say this, but, you are absolutely not ready for Hereditary. Director Ari Aster has created an all-timer with his ambitious debut. Though a lot of the ideas within are familiar to the genre, Aster takes a singular feeling of hopelessness and spins it into an experience of pure, harrowing torment. In essence, this film is unbridled loss, regret, guilt and suffering at 24-frames-per-second. Those looking for shock-a-minute scares won’t find them – this goes deeper. What Aster has turned in is primal and intangible, forcing us to confront human frailty in a way that’s oppressive and disturbing. Anchored by the incomparable Toni Collette, and with a third act that’s almost unbearable, Aster is playing for keeps. You aren’t going to simply shake this one off afterwards.

The story starts in the wake of a death. Annie Graham (Toni Collette)’s estranged mother has just passed away, and each family member is coping in their own way. For Annie, there’s a strange bit of relief. She’s not quite sure how to react, given that their relationship was never on the best of terms. Her son, Peter (Alex Wolff), is aloof, while her daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) is more shook than she’s letting on. As the family patriarch, Steve (Gabriel Byrne) is just trying to contribute some sort of stability. But this seeming misfortune is just the start of something more insidious. It kicks off a chain of events that threatens to destroy the Grahams in the light of some dark family secrets.

Rather than piling up on jump scares, Aster immerses us into the Grahams grief, dropping us right into the middle of things and forcing us to cope alongside the family. More than anything, the film is about the awkward and horrible things that can’t and aren’t said in the wake of a death. About the painful silence that sucks the air out of a room, and about the way that grief and sorrow unites and isolates at the same time. It’s in this time that we’re at our darkest, and its in this area of weakness that Aster’s film comes alive. This is the horror that drives Aster’s film, presenting a completely hopeless family as a sinister shadow of sorrow begins to take root and fester. To that end, the way that Aster builds dread is masterful. The film’s scares come from how each family member manifests the pain that can’t be contained inside, presenting a poignant perspective that is felt as much as it is seen. By design, the film doesn’t lock into place until the very end, but it’s important to note that story’s damning and shocking destination is only a gut punch because of the why and how it occurs.

Hereditary review Toni Collette Milly ShapiroAs the film is filled with so much existential and psychological torture, it would be nothing without its impeccable cast. Aster is able to render such a real and convincing family dynamic because each member of the ensemble goes 200%. Holding it all down, Collette’s Annie is the centerpiece. This is absolutely the best performance of the year, channeling pure sorrow, shame, compassion and anger sometimes simultaneously. There are a few scenes in particular that will stand out as career bests, with Collette channeling real, raw emotion in a way that’s wholly affecting. We can’t not be moved by her journey, and this is her film. As Annie’s equally lost husband, Steve, Gabriel Byrne adds another layer of hopelessness. He’s caring, but pragmatic, attempting to keep the family seams from ripping while also dealing with his own struggles. Alex Wolff also carries a lot of the film’s weight, handling some of its heaviest moments and making them relatable no matter how extraordinary. Without saying too much, Wolff goes through a lot, evoking complex reactions and passionate responses. As the youngest member of the family, Milly Shapiro steals a lot of the scenes she’s in. She has a smaller role, but still leaves a huge mark that can’t be ignored. Lastly, Ann Dowd adds an unexpected layer to everything as Joan, befriending Annie and showing her a new perspective to what’s happening.

At its very core, Hereditary is transcendent, pitch-black horror that comes from a very real place. Ari Aster and crew have created something that not only lingers in our consciousness past its runtime, but also gives the genre a shock to the system. There aren’t any cheap scares here, but a carefully constructed echo chamber of despair and heartache. Unlike almost none before it, Aster’s film is a nasty, yet honest view of death, offering no shelter but also an undeniable catharsis. In my eyes, this is the definition of horror, and it’s brutal and it’s hard to watch, but it’s also undeniably real.

SG