Written and Directed by Ari Aster.
Starring Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Ann Dowd, Milly Shapiro, and Alex Wolff.
When the matriarch of the Graham family passes away, her daughter’s family begins to unravel cryptic and increasingly terrifying secrets about their ancestry.
The only sound heard from the audience during Ali Aster’s devastatingly horrifying Hereditary, came with maybe ten minutes to go. For close to two hours, nary a peep nor breath was heard, only for a collective “fffuuuccckkk” to ripple through the audience. Then everyone held their breath once more. Upon leaving the screen, it felt as if a marathon had been run and two weeks on, I’m still sore.
To aptly describe the sheer horrors of Hereditary in a concise review would be of disservice to what Aster manages to achieve. It’s a rare beast: an accomplished familial drama built upon repressed emotions and a horror for the ages.
Toni Collette is Annie, a miniature artist and reluctant matriarch of the Graham family following the death of her mother, with whom she had an incredibly strained relationship. Her relationship with daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro, a revelation) is further complicated by misplaced love whilst husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) and son Peter (Alex Wolff) find themselves attempting to bring a sense of calm to the ever deteriorating household.
Revealing anything more would give too much away. Going in knowing as little as possible weaves a tapestry of unbridled fear and anxiety so tautly wound, it leaves you feeling literally nauseous.
Aster exploits the deepest felt fears of familial genetics and arguments over dinner with such manic glee whilst reducing the audience to a sniveling mess. The biggest scares are rarely “quiet-loud,” they’re built on slow reveals, the idea that there may be something hidden in the bottom of the frame, or at it’s very best, a family dinner with a slow burning argument that builds to a distressingly sad climax.
Then there’s the much-discussed moment thirty minutes in of which I won’t divulge. However, that five-minute sequence may be the most viscerally upsetting thing I’ve witnessed in recent years.
Cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski uses slow pans to accentuate Aster’s persistence for long takes. All this builds a dread-fuelled tension, awaiting a cut for it to never come. This paired with avant-garde saxophonist Colin Stetson’s score leads to a disorientating, often dreamlike nightmare. In the sort of frank disregard to the health of the audience, Stetson uses a drone built upon a consistent drum pattern that even when absent, is planted deep in memory, causing one’s pulse to match it. It’s the sort of thing that induced panic attacks and all the better for it.
But at its core, its horrors are deeply human. Upon returning from her mother’s funeral, Annie remarks, “ should I be sadder.” It’s a brief respite, but Aster understands the strange nature of grief. Her grief further manifests itself through a recurrence of sleepwalking, a seemingly innocuous event if only muddied by the reveal of a truly horrifying past memory.
Performances are universally extraordinary. Byrne brings with him a regal calm but it’s really the trifecta of Wolff, Shapiro and Collette that impresses most. Shapiro is a truly brilliant screen presence, managing to portray a confused innocence whilst Wolff – who goes through absolute hell throughout – begins the film a confident stoner only for his world to be pulled apart. The slow drop of his head and shoulders as his confidence his hammered and torn at is impressively accomplished and his fear seems truly real and its viscerally upsetting. Collette deserves plaudits in abundance; her Annie a modernist scream queen, an ever-evolving woman built on fear and grief. She manages to make the most manic moments feel grounded.
Hereditary is truly terrifying. It’s challenging and deeply, viscerally disturbing. I’m not one for nightmares, but it’s managed to bore its way so deep into my psyche, I don’t think I’ll ever unsee its horrors. It’s a masterpiece and may be the great horror of the 21st century.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★