Hered­i­tary

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The year’s scari­est movie is back to haunt your Blu-ray player. You’ve been warned.

Anew gen­er­a­tion’s The Ex­or­cist,” screamed the poster quote, spin­ning heads, or at least rais­ing eye­brows. It’s easy to see why the claim was made. Writer-di­rec­tor Ari Aster’s full fea­ture de­but deals in a fam­ily splin­ter­ing apart; it dab­bles in the oc­cult; and it’s deeply dis­tress­ing, prov­ing it­self to be not above util­is­ing genre clichés to tauten both plot and view­ers’ nerves. But mostly, it’s in­ter­ested in the re­ally scary stuff, like psy­cho­log­i­cal trauma and emo­tional dam­age.

More than The Ex­or­cist, though, Aster’s touch­stones are Rose­mary’s Baby, Don’t Look Now and The Shin­ing, movies that ex­plore men­tal ill­ness as much as grief, rage and guilt. In fact, Kubrick’s ghost hov­ers in the cor­ner of each metic­u­lous com­po­si­tion, while the deep-cut­ting do­mes­tic drama at play is prime late-’60s/early-’70s Ing­mar Bergman.

We meet the Gra­ham fam­ily – mum An­nie (Toni Col­lette), dad Steve (Gabriel Byrne), teenage son Peter (Alex Wolff)

and younger daugh­ter Char­lie (Milly Shapiro) – on the day of granny Gra­ham’s fu­neral, and only as the film pre­cisely, painstak­ingly un­furls do we re­alise just how much dam­age this abu­sive woman has done.

At­tend­ing a be­reave­ment group, An­nie be­gins to talk of her late mother and sud­denly the pain and the fury are con­tort­ing her fea­tures, even as self-in­crim­i­na­tion twists her face in new direc­tions. Her ex­pres­sions are so volatile, it’s as if she’s pos­sessed… which is fit­ting, given it’s not long be­fore the Ouija board is out.

If The Shin­ing im­plies the ghosts might be pro­jec­tions of Jack Tor­rance’s demons, Hered­i­tary sug­gests an­guish can be passed down in DNA un­til an en­tire fam­ily is haunted. The cast, uni­formly ex­cel­lent with Col­lette just sen­sa­tional, sell it, and Aster has tricks up his sleeve to deepen the distress: day turn­ing to night like some­one’s flicked a switch; a sharp left-turn in the nar­ra­tive that in­duces not just whiplash but un­shake­able ex­is­ten­tial ter­ror; and a knack of fram­ing rooms in the house and the in­hab­i­tants within them like they’re tableaux in a doll’s house.

An­nie, you see, is a con­tem­po­rary artist who recre­ates scenes from her own life in minia­ture toy houses. But when Aster does it, the feel­ing, in­escapable, is that these char­ac­ters we care about are at the mercy of some greater power.

El­e­vated hor­ror? That term is used by snobs who don’t know their hor­ror his­tory. But Hered­i­tary is a tow­er­ing ad­di­tion to the genre. Jamie Gra­ham

The di­vi­sive ‘pineap­ple with savoury food’ de­bate had got ugly again…

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