Perhaps the most anticipated film – beyond any one genre – at this point in 2018 has been Hereditary. Not to cast any shade on Avengers: Infinity War but when a movie delivers a chilling trailer, comes with Exorcist level expectations and is directed by the man behind The Strange Thing About the Johnsons…consider that ticket bought, sir. Director Ari Aster goes all-in on the horror here (even more so than in his Johnsons short), diving into themes of trauma, maternal anxiety, guilt, and sacrifice. The family unit goes through the wringer, starting from a sad point and getting lower with every minute that passes. Jaws will be dropped and cheers will be had from watching this one, which is already a frontrunner for my best of the year list.
“…their own way of dealing…from passive aggressive art to just plain weirdness.”
Hereditary is about a fairly well to do family, who just recently lost the grandmother to old age. Each member of this group have their own way of dealing with this, that run the gambit from passive aggressive art to just plain weirdness. Slowly but surely, things unravel and tear apart, revealing sinister feelings and motives. That’s about as far into a plot description as I want to go, but do allow me to note the following: Toni Collette as the stressed mother is a glory to behold, the script/pacing/rhythm is perfect and the horror at play is more a reflection of the family dynamic and interpersonal relationships than anything else. And then, things get insane.
This is an exercise (or exorcise) in domestic escalation, where the worst possible things happen at the worst possible moment in just about every scene, never relaxing for a second. I use “domestic” because this is, ultimately, a movie about a messed up family, that further messes itself up, one tragedy at a time. At a few points, I found myself chuckling at this brand of horror, for it reminded me of such classics as Happiness or Palindromes (in a twist, Ari Aster looks like a young Todd Solondz). Those movies also dealt with pain in the form of human connection and bonding but were supposed to be humorous to a nervous degree. In Hereditary, the laughs might be intended, but only as a reaction to genuine shock and awe at what is appearing on screen. It’s happening, but thank goodness not to me.
“…laughs might be intended, but only as a reaction to genuine shock…”
At the center of the film is, of course, the mother played by Toni Collette. As a woman/parent with a history of mental illness and a plethora of experiences with disasters, Toni plays the part through subtle gestures and a growing pattern of passive to active aggression. She’s biting her tongue early on, expressing herself through art crafts and knowing sighs, only to let loose with stripped away fire and brimstone. Any supernatural elements you may read from the trailers are only at the service of the real terror, which is inflicted by her glances and quietly acted behavior, telling more than words can say.
Apologies for playing coy, but I must. I would rather not give out too many clues to the goings-on. Just know, dear readers: This movie is the real deal. Ari Aster and team have struck down to us a ghastly vision that is more fun than a haunted house and more memorable than most Marvel flicks. Not to cast any shade, of course.
Hereditary (2018) Written & Directed by Ari Aster. Starring Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, and Alex Wolff
5 out of 5