Ari Aster’s Hereditary delivers gut-wrenching terror which builds like a gathering storm, slowly digging into the darkest recesses of our nightmares. It’s not for the faint of heart. From the outset, Hereditary creates a dreaded sense of uncertainty, serving up shock moments and constantly playing games with our own perceptions. It is a glorious, nail-biting art-horror film.
The focus is a family who has recently lost its matriarch, leaving Annie (Toni Collette) with feelings of grief and regret with her husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne). Their teenaged son Pete (Alex Wolff) barely seems to care while his troubled sister Charlie (Milly Shapiro) is quiet and withdrawn, mainly because she’s got problems of her own. Each member of the family deal with the loss in different ways, but soon, the pain and trauma tear the family apart, revealing dark feelings and motives. That’s all I’ll say about the plot, as to go further would give away the film’s greatest secrets.
Hereditary is designed to make you feel uncomfortable, even when what’s happening on screen appears mundane. Aster has clearly drawn inspiration from Rosemary’s Baby as the film plays out with a gloomy, slow-burn story that explores a number of different fears, like genetic weakness and mental illness. Hereditary never gives us a chance to relax as there always seems to be something lurking in the shadows, which makes for a psychologically thrilling experience.
This film would be nothing without the lead performances. Milly Shapiro portrays Charlie in such an unsettling way yet still manages to evoke sympathy. Alex Wolff provides a great turn as an ordinary kid whose trauma completely changes him, and as the viewer, you experience the shock as he does. And as for Toni Collett in the role of Annie, she is a swirling mess of emotions, both haunting and haunted.
Hereditary is a landmark horror film and a terrific debut from Ari Aster. It’s the kind of movie that carries a lot of weight, leaving you with so many burning questions. Ultimately, if you’re a horror super fan and you like slow-burn, puzzling plots, then you’re in for a hell of a time.
Written and directed by: Ari Aster
Starring: Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro
Run Time: 127 minutes.