Hereditary scares you out of your genes
The family horror will stick with viewers long after the credits roll
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.
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.