Hered­i­tary scares you out of your genes

The fam­ily hor­ror will stick with view­ers long af­ter the cred­its roll

StarMetro Halifax - - DAILY LIFE - Peter How­ell MOVIE CRITIC Read How­ell’s full col­umn at thes­tar.com/movies

A great hor­ror movie ter­ri­fies you more af­ter you leave the the­atre. It im­parts a sense of dread that lingers in the mind, longer than any jump scare on the screen.

Hered­i­tary is a great hor­ror movie. Ari Aster’s fea­ture de­but, boast­ing an ex­tra­or­di­nary per­for­mance by Toni Col­lette as a mother un­der siege (re­mem­ber her at awards time), tracks the course of ma­lign acts visited upon the Gra­ham fam­ily, whose mem­bers are at­tempt­ing to live quiet lives in an af­flu­ent Pa­cific North­west town. The Gra­hams be­come in­no­cent tar­gets of evil, but per­haps not un­sus­pect­ing ones. When fam­ily ma­tri­arch Ellen dies at age 78 af­ter a long de­cline through de­men­tia, her daugh­ter, An­nie (Col­lette), strangely eu­lo­gizes her as “a very se­cre­tive woman” who would have felt a sense of “be­trayal” to be talked about at a funeral ser­vice.

An­nie doesn’t ex­actly mourn her mother’s pass­ing — “Should I feel sad­der?” she asks some­one — but she joins a grief sup­port group any­way, be­friend­ing a kindly woman named Joan (Ann Dowd). An­nie blurts out to the group a his­tory of fam­ily tragedy: the sui­cides of her brother and fa­ther, one through hang­ing and the other through star­va­tion.

This trau­matic past helps ex­plain An­nie’s un­usual oc­cu­pa­tion: she makes minia­ture doll­houses and dolls that mimic real-life oc­cur­rences and peo­ple in the Gra­ham house­hold, in­clud­ing Ellen’s hospice care prior to her death. An­nie ev­i­dently seeks to con­trol through her art what she can’t con­trol in her life. (Th­ese minia­ture dio­ra­mas, which func­tion as both flash­backs and fore­shad­ow­ing of events in the movie, were crafted by Toronto artist Steve New­burn.)

An­nie’s aloof psy­chother­a­pist hus­band Steve (Gabriel Byrne) seems of lit­tle com­fort, caught up in car­ing for his many pa­tients. The cou­ple’s teenaged son, Peter (Alex Wolff), and 13-year-old daugh­ter, Char­lie (Milly Shapiro), have also re­treated into their own realms. Their de­fault stares range from in­dif­fer­ence to anger.

Peter, a quiet stoner, is ap­par­ently un­ruf­fled by recent events. Char­lie, an in­tense brooder, is quite the op­po­site. Grandma’s death has prompted her to fill a sketch­pad with vi­o­lent draw­ings and to fash­ion minia­ture mod­els out of found ob­jects — in­clud­ing a dead bird’s head she snaps off with scis­sors — that sig­nal trou­bling ob­ses­sions.

REID CHAVIS/A24/TNS

Toni Col­lette in Hered­i­tary. Cine­matog­ra­pher Pawel Po­gorzel­ski moves the cam­era like a cat stalk­ing its prey, silently glid­ing through half-lit rooms, writes Peter How­ell.

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