Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Movie Review: Hereditary

Hereditary **** ½ / *****
Directed by: Ari Aster.
Written by: Ari Aster.
Starring: Toni Collette (Annie Graham), Gabriel Byrne (Steve Graham), Alex Wolff (Peter Graham), Milly Shapiro (Charlie Graham), Ann Dowd (Joan). 
You don’t want to know anything about Hereditary before you see it – this is true for a lot of movies, but especially something like this. That isn’t to say that the film is all surprises and twists and turns and shocks – and that if you knew what you were getting yourself into, the movie would lose its effect. Far from it. Hereditary is a horror movie that takes things like trauma and grief seriously, where the pain inflicted on the family at its core comes from both outside and in, and in many different forms – so it is a horror film that can, and will, stand up to repeat viewings. But the first time through, you should go in as fresh as possible, just knowing that the film will shake you to the core. (This is your clue to stop reading now if you haven’t seen the film).
The film is about the Graham family, who when the film opens are getting ready for the funeral of the family matriarch. The eulogy delivered by Annie (Toni Collette) for her mother makes it clear that the deceased was a difficult person to say the least – it’s about as harsh as a eulogy can be without tipping over into being downright cruel (that will be saved for later, when Annie goes to a grief support group – and lays bare her tortured family history – revolving around her mother). Annie is barely holding it together – dealing with the grief for this woman she loved and hated, losing herself when she can into her work – she is an artist, who specializes in insanely detailed diorama’s – her favorite subject is her family, and we find out even more about that tortured past through those dioramas. Her oldest son is Peter (Alex Wolf) – a teenage pothead, who seems distant from his family, but then again, what teenager doesn’t? There is also Charlie (Milly Shapiro), a 13 year old girl, who is clearly disturbed in some way – the drawings she is constantly making her notebook give it away, if what she does with a bird early in the film does not. Annie’s husband is Steve (Gabriel Byrne) – the only one not from the same bloodline as Annie of course – who just wants everything to run smoothly, and for everybody to be safe and secure. He’s deluding himself if he thinks that. The only other major character in the film is Joan (Ann Dowd) – a woman at the grief support group, who seems so nice – open and receptive to whatever Annie has to say. That’s never a good sign in a horror movie – especially considering the things Annie says.
To say more would be to ruin the, well, fun isn’t the right word – but surprises doesn’t quite fit either. I oftentimes complain about the marketing of a film that gives away too much – but perhaps because I avoided anything for the film that I could – meaning I only saw the trailer playing in theatres before other movies – I will say in this case, what A24 did was quite ingenious – they are selling one movie, and delivering another – and while that alienates idiots who want to know exactly what they’re getting when they sit down, for the rest of us there is a definitive moment when our whole conception of what we are seeing shifts completely – and there is little more satisfying than when that happens.
In general, I don’t like it when critics – or directors themselves – describe a horror film as “elevated” horror – or go even farther and say it’s not really a horror film at all. Horror seems to be the only genre this happens in, as if the genre itself is so disreputable that if someone has made a great film, it cannot possibly be a horror film. Hereditary is quite clearly a horror film – by any definition it fits. But what I will say about it is that it is an uncommon horror film in that it really does trauma and grief seriously – and examines them in ways most more serious films on the subject do not. There are a lot of horrible things that happen to the Graham family in Hereditary – lots that is outside their immediate control. But they do a pretty good job of destroying themselves as well. This is not a family that communicates well together – they cannot tell even basic truths to each other – for example, Annie tells her husband she’s going to the movies instead of letting him know she is going to a grief support group. Why? We get no indication that he wouldn’t support her doing that, or mock her. But she cannot admit even that weakness. When they do finally speak – when real things are said – they are the type of things that sting and hurt – that can never be unsaid or forgotten – that scar more deeply than physical trauma. For much of the movie, we are inside that house with the family – inside their heads – and we cannot tell if the strange things we are seeing are real, or imagined – if there is a legacy of mental illness coming out in the family, or there is a real threat – or more likely, both.
First time director Ari Aster has crafted a truly terrifying movie here, because it’s the type of thing that goes deeper, and gets at something more primal than most horror films. He is aided by great performances by the entire cast – no one more so than Toni Collette, who gives one of the very best performances of the year so far as Annie. But every aspect of the movie works – this is a film that can be both beautiful, and terrifying. The attention paid to the smallest production design details – in the dioramas especially, and the sound design amplify the horror, without becoming a distraction. Hereditary is a masterwork of horror filmmaking.

1 comment:

  1. Hereditary: Tolstoy wrote: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” In this film each member of the Graham family is unhappy in their own way. Annie (Toni Collette), the mother, grieves for her own recently deceased mother. But she was estranged from that difficult, domineering woman for years only reconciling towards the end.> Reviews Hereditary
    Her father starved himself to death, her brother committed committed suicide. All of that trauma seems to have driven Annie over the edge.
    Charlie (Milly Shapiro), the daughter, is unhappy in herself, gorges on chocolate, sketches continuously, cuts the heads off dead birds, sleeps in a treehouse. Peter (Alex Wolff), the son, is a pothead, he feels unloved by his mother, as the film unfolds he develops a crippling guilt over an accident he feels responsible for. Steve (Gabriel Byrne), the paterfamilias, has a countenance as dour and world weary as we’ve come to expect from Stephen Rea. He carries out the mundane tasks of cooking and trying to keep the family together.

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