There are just some things you would rather not know about your family
By Jason Wiese
I always love to look at the promotional material for B-movies from the 50s and 60s and read the cheesy taglines, which always usually turned out to be fodder. Posters would read overcooked phrases such as “Blood curdling thrills!” or “Prepare to be paralyzed with fear!” or “You won’t know what to believe.” You know, that kind of crap.
But Hereditary, the latest horror release from A24 (which was all I needed to hear for this film to earn my interest), is a film that could put such phrases on its poster and would effectively deliver on its promises.
The less you know about the feature-length debut of writer-director Ari Aster the better. What I am willing to reveal is that it focuses on a sculptor of miniatures named Annie Graham (Academy Award-nominee Toni Collette), her husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), son Peter (Alex Wolff) and daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro). The film is already harrowing enough while it initially plays out as melodrama following this family’s suffering in the wake of tragedy. But once they begin to fall prey to a series of traumatic occurrences, many of which are beyond explanation, the film quickly becomes a relentless, unmerciful nightmare.
Aster’s screenplay is grounded in relatable themes of the most challenging and unfortunate circumstances that a family could face: grief, regret, shame, hostility. At times it seems this is a family beyond repair, and I could not help but carry these feelings with me, deeply sympathizing with these people. But as tensions rose between them, forcing them to question each other’s trust, I began to feel the same way about these characters, eventually wondering, should I be afraid for these people, or should I be afraid of them?
Collette’s portrayal of a mother burning the candle at both ends in her struggle to keep her family and sanity together is astounding. Wolff, who has come a long way from his early days on the Nickelodeon sitcom, The Naked Brothers Band, gives a moving performance, with a near flawless depiction of the paralyzing nature of fear. It is suffocating to watch Byrne evolve into a confused, helpless shell of a man as his family is torn apart right in front of him, yet even his motivations become unequivocal at times. Even when you may want to believe he is doing the right thing, you fear the potentially grave severity of his actions. As for Shapiro, there is not much I wish to reveal about her spine-tingling presence, but I will say she is certainly one to look out for.
Given the traumatic nature of this film, Hereditary is not something I would recommend to those outside of the audience that enjoys horror, but this hit all the right spots for me. Aside from being a phenomenal achievement in the genre, it is an impressive achievement in filmmaking alone with inventive cinematography, indelible performances, pitch perfect tone and a shockingly and brilliantly subversive storyline. Just like our protagonists, the minute I thought I knew what was really going on, I immediately questioned my theory, only to go back against my questioning and then back again until I felt just as desperate to grasp the truth as the characters did. Hereditary is a masterpiece in brain teasery in the most horrifying way that may stick with you longer than you would like, and my favorite film of the year thus far.