Cruelly effective horrors abound
On the exclusive outskirts of an unnamed American city, an old woman has died.
From the tone of the eulogy at her funeral – delivered by her adult daughter – she was a bit of a nightmare to live with and nobody, not even in her own family, is too heartbroken to see the back of her.
Back home, daughter Annie (Toni Collette) and husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) restart their lives.
Annie is an artist, constructing incredibly detailed miniatures of the rooms and houses she visits for an upcoming exhibition. Son Peter is in high school and 11-year-old daughter Charlie is just beginning to cause trouble.
Annie wonders at just how much influence her mother has had on Charlie, who was very much the old woman’s favourite. And pretty soon a sequence of disturbing events causes Annie to wonder if her mother is reaching out to Charlie from beyond the grave.
Hereditary has a classic setup. The film toggles between teasing at a supernatural explanation and the possibility that Annie – who has an ill-defined history of mental illness – is causing, or imagining everything that seems to be happening.
An unusually effective and blunt first act leads to a truly shocking moment – one completely unspoiled by the trailer – and Hereditary rolls on as an uneven, but likeable way to spend a few hours.
Hereditary is at its most cruelly effective when it seems to be demonising dementia and depression. It’s a problematic and old-fashioned storyline to peddle, and naturally it can’t last. But Collette is just so darned good at playing delusional with a side-order of psychopathic, the possibility seems too seductive to waste.
When Hereditary swerves into a purely supernatural/cult ‘‘explanation’’ of what’s been unfolding on screen, the shark is thoroughly jumped and Iwasn’t the only person laughing.
By that time though, you probably will have had too much fun to really care. Any film that manages to evoke both Pet Sematary and The Wicker Man is definitely the work of awriter and director who has been to the well and learned the genre like he should.
Writer-director Ari Aster’s greatest asset is Collette, at her most formidably deranged here, and pretty much carrying the film alone through long stretches when credulity is buckling under contrivance.
Gabriel Byrne is so underemployed I believe the film could have been stronger, more claustrophobic and heightened had Collette being playing a single mother – in an inverse of The Sixth Sense and Babadook dynamic – with no husband around to provide an escape valve. Almost everything Byrne contributes could have been taken up by Alex Wolff’s teenage son and maybe a lovable, disposable neighbour for a few moments towards the end.
As young daughter Charlie, first-time film actor Millie Shapiro is also pretty astonishing.
Hereditary is not ‘‘this generation’s The Exorcist’’. It’s not even close. It’s at least 10 minutes too long, the ending is far too silly to give the film any enduring power and the underpinning idea lacks the rigour and intent of any really great horror.
But Hereditary is still a good time, and it delivers your money’s worth of jumps and lunacy. - Graeme Tuckett
Toni Collette is at her most formidably deranged in Hereditary.