Mother of all mod­ern

Daily Express - - WEEKEND FILMS - (Cert 15, 127mins) Andy Lea Hered­i­tary

AF­TER years in the dol­drums the hor­ror movie is mak­ing a come­back: Get Out won an Os­car, M Night Shya­malan re­turned to the genre last year with Split and the ex­cel­lent The Cured used the zom­bie movie to ex­plore post-Trou­bles Ire­land.

And Hered­i­tary is a beau­ti­fully shot, bril­liantly acted and smartly writ­ten su­per­nat­u­ral chiller which sug­gests we are en­ter­ing a new golden age of the scary movie.

Toni Col­lette plays An­nie Gra­ham, a trou­bled artist who con­structs minia­ture mod­els of build­ings in her at­tic stu­dio. Her el­derly mother has just died in the up­stairs bed­room, leav­ing be­hind a col­lec­tion of strange books about the spirit world.

In a pow­er­ful speech at a sup­port group, An­nie re­veals a fam­ily his­tory of men­tal ill­ness and re­lates how her mother sub­jected her to years of emo­tional abuse.

This could ex­plain why she is find­ing it so hard to grieve and is ne­glect­ing her two chil­dren by hid­ing away in her stu­dio. Her minia­ture world, it seems, is the only realm she can con­trol.

But it is not just An­nie who had been badly af­fected by the old lady. When her haunt­ed­look­ing daugh­ter Char­lie (Milly Shapiro) sees a pi­geon crash into her class­room win­dow, she nips out and snips its head off with a pair of scis­sors, adding it to a weird col­lec­tion of totems she is amass­ing.

And when she ap­pears to see Granny alive and well we won­der whether this is a man­i­fes­ta­tion of the spirit world or whether the old fam­ily curse of men­tal ill­ness has struck.

Mean­while her son Peter (Alex Wolff) seems strangely de­tached from his grand­mother’s death. But all is not well be­tween him and his odd mother.

And when An­nie starts con­tact­ing the other side his laid-back fa­ther (Gabriel Byrne) sus­pects his wife is fi­nally descend­ing into mad­ness.

But to say any more would spoil the fun.

Hered­i­tary of­fers very dif­fer­ent types of chills to re­cent hor­ror se­ries such as Saw, In­sid­i­ous or Annabelle. There is no tor­ture scene, no jump scares, no ill-ad­vised trips to 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 the gritty fam­ily hor­ror of the late 1960s and early 1970s and the writ­ing and act­ing are shock­ingly good for a hor­ror film.

Like The Ex­or­cist, The Omen and Rose­mary’s Baby, Hered­i­tary takes its time get­ting around to the su­per­nat­u­ral.

But af­ter the first shock (which is one of the grimmest scenes I have 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.

find our­selves in an era when sec­ond-hand book­shops and even the “spe­cial re­la­tion­ship” be­tween the US and Bri­tain are rapidly dis­ap­pear­ing.

This es­sen­tially static play is en­livened by mu­si­cal in­ter­ludes with the en­sem­ble play­ing in­stru­ments and singing.

The odd so­cial mix of Doel’s em­ploy­ees con­jures the residue of post-war Lon­don’s Blitz spirit as well as nos­tal­gia for a kinder, GOD save us from writ­ers writ­ing about how hard it is to be a writer. Judg­ing by its lit­er­ary suc­cess, El­iz­a­beth Strout’s novel ev­i­dently works well on the page but its lack of in­trin­sic drama makes it an odd choice for the stage, par­tic­u­larly a one-woman play.

How­ever when the woman in ques­tion is played by mul­ti­award-win­ning ac­tress Laura Lin­ney (Frasier, The Tru­man Show) mak­ing her Lon­don de­but, there is rea­son to re­joice.

In a sim­ple hos­pi­tal room set with a screen de­pict­ing New York’s Chrysler Build­ing, Lin­ney re­calls nine weeks spent re­cu­per­at­ing from an op­er­a­tion. There she re­ceives an un­ex­pected visit from her long-es­tranged mother.

She flips be­tween the roles of daugh­ter and mother with sub­tle vo­cal gra­da­tions and when the set shifts to a field with a soli­tary house she re­calls in­ci­dents from her dys­func­tional child­hood – in­clud­ing be­ing locked in a pickup with a snake for com­pany. The sense of a ru­ral fam­ily in Am­gash, Illi­nois, who are be­mused by their way­ward daugh­ter’s lit­er­ary as­pi­ra­tions, is well ob­served and there are one or two il­lu­mi­nat­ing pas­sages. But it does not add up to much of a drama and Richard Eyre’s di­rec­tion is al­most in­vis­i­ble.

Lin­ney is never less than a com­pelling pres­ence with a wry smile and a de­meanour that shut­tles be­tween op­ti­mism and wry re­gret. But she strug­gles to con­vey the suf­fo­cat­ing con­flict that should drive the drama, pos­si­bly be­cause there isn’t any.

Strout’s Vir­ginia Woolf-lite prose re­fuses to gain dra­matic trac­tion in play­wright Rona Munro’s adap­ta­tion which seems too rev­er­en­tial to the re­flec­tive, al­most mawk­ish mood of the novella. Grow­ing up as an iso­lated child with­out tele­vi­sion, mag­a­zines or even friends, Lucy says: “Books made me feel less alone... I thought, I will write and peo­ple will not feel so alone!”

Hello, Em­peror. Here are your new clothes.

HOME IS WHERE THE HURT IS: Toni Col­lette and Gabriel Byrne in the su­per­nat­u­ral hor­ror Hered­i­tary

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