SHOULD I SEE IT?
Ari Aster’s feature-film debut, as writer and director, is a fearless, audacious, and bold psychological horror film that cannot help but leave you disturbed at some point and on some level.
I know horror films don’t make the journey to the Oscars all that often, but I would, at a minimum, pencil Toni Collette into your Best Actress predictions.
Unflinching and unafraid to go places most mainstream films will not, Hereditary avoids tired, exhausted jump scares and attempts to burrow into your heart and soul.
Unflinching and unafraid to go places most mainstream films will not, Hereditary avoids tired, exhausted jump scares and attempts to burrow into your heart and soul. (Yes, this one repeats from above, because this movie is a tough watch at times…)
Hereditary includes disturbing images and scenes that you may not be prepared for. Those with a sensitivity to younger characters in peril or distress, or hesitancy around films which incorporate occultism as a theme, should proceed with caution.
Hmmm. That ending is not going to work for everyone.
Rich in symbolism, spiritualism, and something of a treatise on guilt, loss, and unresolved anguish, Ari Aster’s debut film, Hereditary, opens with an on-screen obituary and concludes with us questioning everything we have seen, as the end credits first appear.
For much of Hereditary‘s 127-minute running time, Aster has us in the palm of his hand.
The obituary shows us that 78-year-old Ellen has passed away, and we watch the Graham family attempting to get through the funeral and return to some semblance of a normal routine. Annie (Toni Collette) and Steve (Gabriel Byrne) have two high-school aged children, Peter (Alex Wolff) and Charlie (Milly Shapiro), and live in a big, spacious house, which doubles as an art studio for Annie’s work.
Annie works in miniatures and three-dimensional representations of, at least for her latest project, her everyday life. Annie's creations have been commissioned for an art installation in New York City and she spends much of her time crafting incredibly detailed caricatures.
Peter, largely left to his own devices, hangs in his room and gets stoned a lot and kind of mopes around, something of a loner. Charlie is a curiosity unto herself. She draws in her journal a lot. Observes everything and says relatively little otherwise. She seems reserved, almost barely able to see behind her blonde locks.
Everything feels off once the Grahams return home from the funeral. Annie is concerned she is not sadder. Steve is simply trying to maintain the status quo. Charlie wanders and explores. Peter is bored in life. As Hereditary moves along, we begin to learn more and more about why the family is so isolated and explore the interconnections between Annie and her children.
Hereditary never feels at peace. Even in Annie’s incredibly detailed recreations of her life, which soon become all encompassing and immediate in their creation, these are people seeming to lose their grips on reality at different speeds, times, and places. In short, the Grahams are broken, and have been long before their matriarch passed away.
That uneasiness from scene-to-scene and moment-to-moment is generated by Aster’s innate sense of creating an increasingly suffocating atmosphere. Hereditary is creepy, it never gives you the capacity to take a full breath. And so, we have no choice but to take a most unsettling journey, where tragedy, mystery, and spiritualism all become the ingredients for what can be equally terrifying and exhilarating.
At the heart of the film comes a stunning and remarkable performance from Collette. Aster asks a lot of his lead actress, and she gives herself completely over to Annie, in the most challenging role of her career. She is a loving but conflicted mother, someone who seeks assistance and then largely abandons it. She clings to hope, sometimes irrationally. And Annie is proud, defiant, and susceptible to emotional outbursts which all would be understandable based on the circumstances she encounters in the film.
Tony Award winner Shapiro is captivating as Charlie, a character you simply want to spend more time with, as the young actress crafts such a commanding and disturbing presence on screen. Wolff’s performance as Peter is fine for the most part, though the movie bogs down whenever he is forced to carry a significant portion of the story on his shoulders. And I wish Aster had something more for Byrne, who is just kind of there a lot of the time. The middle act receives a jolt of energy from the terrific Ann Dowd, the veteran character actor, who plays Joan, a woman who befriends Annie when they cross paths in a parking lot.
This thing is going to bother you, it crawls around you and tries to crawl under your skin. Aster toys with our sensibilities just enough to keep us slightly off-center. The use of Annie’s miniatures, versus the realities facing her and her family, is clever and keeps us guessing. Through Pawel Pogorzelski’s quiet and patient camera, and the increasingly frenetic editing work of Lucian Johnston and Jennifer Lame, Hereditary commands our attention.
Aster opts to take his film to a place that some will love, others will be mesmerized by, and some will simply throw their popcorn aside and stomp out. As the film becomes more hyperactive and unrestrained, much of what makes this film so well constructed and conceived falls away. Paced expertly well for the most part, Aster falls victim to writing himself into something of a corner and having to fight his way out. As a result, Hereditary never quite sticks the landing it is looking for, resulting in a final 10-15 minute sequence that feels inconsistent, rushed, and rather underwhelming.
Be that as it may, Aster is a bold storyteller and one not afraid to take big chances. With a tip of the hat to movies like Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, Don’t Look Now, The Shining, and others, he may occasionally brandish those influences a bit too prominently.
However, in totality, Hereditary is an impressive debut, with memorable moments, images, and a performance from Toni Collette that should keep the film in the conversation for much of the remainder of 2018.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd.
Director: Ari Aster
Written by: Ari Aster
Release Date: June 8, 2018