Hor­ror runs in the fam­ily

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - INSIDER - OPENS THURS­DAY

This creepy su­per­nat­u­ral thriller un­bal­ances movie­go­ers from the open­ing credit se­quence — in which a cross cut model of a doll’s house slowly comes to life.

And di­rec­tor Ari Aster, who exhibits ex­tra­or­di­nary as­sur­ance for a first-time film­maker, never lets his au­di­ence re­gain their foot­ing.

Hered­i­tary un­folds in a kind of al­ter­na­tive di­men­sion, a creepy, dream­like space some­where be­tween sim­u­lacrum and re­al­ity.

It’s hard to get one’s bear­ings.

An­nie Gra­ham’s (Toni Col­lette) dio­ra­mas — the trou­bled artist painstak­ingly recre­ates her life in minia­ture — com­pound the prob­lem.

The is­sues are those of scale and per­spec­tive, on both a lit­eral and a me­taphor­i­cal/ meta­phys­i­cal level.

Char­lie (Milly Shapiro), the youngest mem­ber of the Gra­ham fam­ily, is the prob­lem child. A strange, in­tense, dis­turbed and dis­turb­ing lit­tle crea­ture, she would rather fash­ion small voodoo dolls out of dead an­i­mal body parts than en­gage with other chil­dren her age. But as the fam­ily frac­tures un­der the weight of a series of hor­rific events, An­nie, too, exhibits signs of aber­rant be­hav­iour.

Could she be the real de­mon in this story?

The nar­ra­tive al­ludes to post-na­tal de­pres­sion but also some­thing darker and more sin­is­ter.

As An­nie’s tragic back­story emerges, the ground shifts un­til, like her ex­traor­di­nar­ily pa­tient hus­band Steve (Gabriel Byrne), we too be­gin to ques­tion her mo­tives.

Col­lette moves so seam­lessly be­tween the states of care­worn pro­tec­tor, trau­ma­tised vic­tim and ma­ter­nal mon­ster, her char­ac­ter in United States Of Tara, by com­par­i­son, seems well-ad­justed.

Son Peter (Alex Wolff) is in­creas­ingly ter­ri­fied — not least be­cause he seems to be the tar­get of An­nie’s in­creas­ingly malev­o­lent al­ter ego.

Hered­i­tary sets its dis­cor­dant tone from the open­ing se­quence, in which the Gra­ham fam­ily at­tends the funeral of An­nie’s mother.

In a sur­pris­ingly can­did eu­logy, An­nie ac­knowl­edges the depth of the pair’s emo­tional es­trange­ment, but the wo­man has a strange hold on her, even af­ter her death.

There might also be more to the warm, car­ing fel­low suf­ferer An­nie meets at a grief sup­port group (Ann Dowd) than ini­tially meets the eye.

Aster charts this in­creas­ingly dys­func­tional fam­ily’s de­scent into hell with­out blink­ing.

He ma­nip­u­lates his au­di­ence with as much skill and dex­ter­ity as An­nie dis­plays in cre­at­ing her ev­ery­day dolls houses, an orig­i­nal, con­tem­po­rary, evoca­tive twist on the clas­sic Vic­to­rian hor­ror trope.

The di­rec­tor sus­tains the ten­sion right up un­til the fi­nal act — which re­quires movie­go­ers to make an ex­treme leap of faith with him into the oc­cult.

Ad­vance word on this film — which is al­ready be­ing touted as an Os­car pos­si­bil­ity in the wake of last year’s hor­ror game changer, Get Out — would sug­gest that hasn’t been a prob­lem for most peo­ple.

This critic, how­ever, was left stranded on the op­po­site shore.

An­nie Gra­ham (Toni Col­lette) in a scene from Hered­i­tary.

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