Main cast: Toni Collette (Annie Graham), Gabriel Byrne (Steve Graham), Alex Wolff (Peter Graham), Milly Shapiro (Charlie Graham), Ann Dowd (Joan), and Mallory Bechtel (Bridget)
Director: Ari Aster
Hereditary is another cautionary tale about why families shouldn’t stay in big isolated houses in the woods. Sure, living among nature may be fun at first, but nobody’s going to know or care when weird and dangerous things happen to the poor woman – it’s always a woman, isn’t it? – in the house.
Annie Graham’s life takes a downturn when her mother Ellen passed away shortly before the movie opens. Grieving, she reveals at a support group that her family members have a tendency to go bonkers shortly before they die. Okay, then. Then her son Peter decides to pretend that he’s going to some school event when he actually wants to go to a party, and Annie insists that he takes his sister, the singularly creepy Charlie, with him. Let’s just say that the night ends with Charlie’s head flying off her body and oops, there goes the peace and quiet in the Graham neighborhood. Soon, however, Annie believes that Charlie is back to haunt them, and naturally her husband Steve is skeptical about her claims. What is happening? Is there a genuine case of haunting here, or is it Annie’s turn to go bonkers?
Well, this movie is everything mother! should have been: it has similar themes about gender and family dynamics gone haywire, female martyrdom taken to dark and disturbing lengths, and a woman’s psychological breakdown, but without the off-putting pretentiousness and navel-gazing condescension of the other movie. Indeed Ari Aster’s debut effort as both director and screenwriter should also be given a thumbs up for creating a genuinely scary movie with slow but great build-up, with a lot of love also sprinkled on top for not resorting to cheap jump scares.
The MVP here is Toni Collette. Her role gives her a lot of room to overact and over emote, but Ms Collette reins herself in, and the result is a protagonist whose increasing histrionic is chilling to follow, without it coming off as too obnoxious or grating on the nerves. The rest of the cast has little to do other than to stare at the camera, with poor Alex Wolff having to wear that bandage on his nose in the later parts of the movie and the sight of him is distracting, because that nose looks like a red, inflamed penis.
There are some boo-boos, of course, mostly the fact that Mr Aster, like many film people these days, really likes his close-ups on his cast members’ faces to such a long-drawn degree that I end up getting exasperated. Why am I being made to look at Mr Wolff’s face for so long? The first few seconds of that expression should be enough, and the next few minutes of that close-up of the same expression is just overkill. Also, the denouement of the movie is more unintentionally hilarious than scary, as the effects look more hokey than frightening.
Oh, and there is some nudity here, but it’s not the kind that is meant to be sexy. This is not a movie to watch if you want that thing. In fact, Hereditary isn’t about instant gratification or cheap scares – it wants to build up tension, set up the atmosphere carefully, and slowly reel viewers in until the whole thing comes to a boil in the late third or so of the film. That Mr Aster manages to succeed in doing all this – thanks to Ms Collette too, of course – in his first full-length creepy film is all the more impressive. Watch this if you want to take the time to be scared, but watch something else if you want people on the screen to die in quick succession.