Classy shocker is flaming good fun
AFTER years in the doldrums, the horror movie seems to be making a comeback.
M Night Shyamalan returned to the genre last year with Split, there’s a new Halloween on the way and Get Out even made an appearance at the Oscars.
Now this beautifully shot, brilliantly acted and smartly written supernatural chiller looks set to usher in a new golden age of scary movies.
Before I get carried away, I should point out that Hereditary offers very different types of chills to recent series like Saw, Insidious or Annabelle.
There is no torture scene, no jump scares, no ill-advised trips into a dark basement. And at no point does an antique children’s toy suddenly spring into life.
First-time director Ari Aster is influenced by an older kind of film – the gritty, family horror of the late 60s and early 70s.
Like The Exorcist, The Omen and Rosemary’s Baby, Hereditary takes its time getting round to the supernatural.
Toni Collette plays Annie Graham, a deeply troubled artist who constructs miniature models of buildings in her attic studio.
Her mother has just died in the upstairs bedroom, leaving a collection of strange books about the spirit world.
In a powerful speech at a support group (the writing and acting here is shockingly good for a horror film) Annie reveals a family history of mental illness and relates how her mother subjected her to years of emotional abuse.
This could be why she is finding it hard to grieve and neglecting her two children by hiding in her studio.
Her miniature world, it seems, is the only realm she can control.
The horrible old lady seems to have had a very negative effect on Annie’s family. And when her haunted-looking daughter sees a pigeon crash into her classroom window, she nips out and cuts its head off with scissors.
She adds it to a weird collection of totems she seems to be amassing. When she appears to spot granny alive and well, we wonder whether this is a manifestation of the spirit world or the old family curse. Her stoner son Peter (Alex Wolff), meanwhile, seems to be strangely detached from granny’s death.
But all is not well between him and his odd mother. And when Annie starts contacting the other side, the laidback father (Gabriel Byrne) suspects his wife has finally descended into madness.
To say any more would spoil the fun. But after the first shock (one of the grimmest scenes I’ve ever seen in a horror movie), the slow build-up begins to pay off.
If we hadn’t become so invested in these characters, the second half of the film would appear laughably over-the-top.
But here, the supernatural feels horribly real.