Horror really divides audiences like no other genre manages to, so when one arrives that’s universally heralded as a masterpiece, it naturally attracts attention. Hereditary is the latest movie to get that klaxon treatment, and the truth is it’s one of the best examples of slow burn tension and terror we’ve had for quite some time. There are a few niggling concerns that keep this from being a complete success but on the whole, Hereditary channels the best horror of the 1970s and has an ending that will keep you thinking for long after the end-credits roll.
The set-up is relatively straightforward with Annie Graham (Toni Collett) dealing with the funeral arrangements and aftermath of her mother Ellen’s death. They had a difficult relationship so there’s a distance ever present – and that is where most of Hereditary’s best work is done. It’s the pockets of distance and doubt that makes your mind conjure up the unknown parts of the puzzle. The film also throws its audience an almighty curveball that tricks you into believing that you are watching a particular type of horror, which subsequently manifests itself into being something much more haunting and sinister.
As Annie and her family work through their personal grief, it becomes clear that her Mother was into some very scary business – and crucially, its unfinished business – that will drag Annie and the Graham clan into a terrifying journey into their past. The drip-fed storyline works exceptionally well and constantly stacks more angst and doom onto the viewer. This is one of the most uneasy movies you’ll sit through this year and it revels in how uncomfortable and disturbing it makes its audience feel. However the finale and the eventual reveal is handled with a different set of rules.
Metaphorically, rather than gently laying down its cards on the table, it smashes its hand through the table and leaves a mark on the floor. It becomes too visceral, especially when weighed up against the tone of the rest of the film. Some will love that – I felt it was too at odds with what has come before. It’s a great cautionary finale reminiscent of classic 70s horror, but one that I feel could have been more effectively portrayed with less. That’s not to say it’s not scary – it certainly is – it’s just not the finale I think the film should have had. But that is what writer/director Ari Aster clearly reveals in – scrambling your expectations.
I’ve never seen Toni Collette give a poor performance and she continues that trend here, holding together all of the elements that makes Hereditary work so effectively. She is superb and gives the film a true sense of impending doom with a nuanced performance that demands a lot from her. Alex Wolff (Nat’s younger brother) hands in a stellar turn as Annie’s son who makes a terrible mistake and struggles to cope. Gabriel Byrne is as solid as ever but could have been used more. Its veteran actress Ann Dowd and newcomer Milly Shapiro that leave the lasting marks on your psyche though, as both deliver performances of incredible strength and depth that linger.
Hereditary is a story about the grief process, and it’s unflinching in its examination of this. That’s perhaps the scariest part of the narrative, and what grounds the story in reality (something which I always think is imperative in delivering a substantial horror). The finale is very effective but for me raises questions as to why more scares weren’t utilised to good effect in the first two thirds of the movie if the finale was going to be so batshit crazy. These concerns aside, it’s nice to get a proper horror aimed at adults for once. Hereditary proves that there is a market for proper, mature horror that doesn’t pander to the modern trend of jump scares and loud bangs to evoke a response.
Cast: Toni Collette, Milly Shapiro, Alex Wolff, Gabriel Byrne, Ann Dowd Director: Ari Aster Writer: Ari Aster Released By: A24/Entertainment Film Distribution Certificate: 15 Duration: 127 mins Release Date: 15th June 2018