Mother of all modern
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