You should go into this as cold as possible. I’m here to tell you that it is good and it is scary and you should see it. I will tell you why I believe these things but, honestly, anything I might say might spoil at least some of the experience for you so you’re better off taking my word for it and just seeing it. But I you really must know, bring the family to read the rest of this. It’s very important you bring your whole family.
Still here? OK.
Hereditary starts with a funeral. Annie Graham (Toni Collette) delivers a eulogy for her recently departed mother, explaining that her mother was a private woman with private friends and hobbies, making clear that their relationship was strained at the best of times, and further that it hadn’t been the best of times in quite some time. After the funeral she retires home with her family: husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), 17-year-old son Peter (Alex Wolff), and 13-year-old daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro). It becomes clear right away that things aren’t quite right from the start but the smart move that writer/director Ari Aster makes is to not let you know exactly how things aren’t right.
This sounds like a standard thing for a horror film to do but the difference here is that rather than focussing on any one horror trope Aster gives you, well, kind of all of them to deal with. If you’ve seen the trailers you know there’s a manic performance from Collette, that there’s a disaffected teenager and a creepy daughter, and a father who seems oddly detached. Each of these are the subject in so many horror movies and the result is that it’s actually pretty hard to see what’s coming for most of the film. Aster complicates things further with a few very sudden and brutal acts of violence, and by slowly and steadily ramping up the tension steadily from the first frame to the last.
Each of the main actors give great performances in this. Milly Shapiro might be one of the all time creepy kids, her odd detached nature in the film and upsetting vocalizations are quietly unsettling and when she looks at the camera you get the feeling she might be looking right through you. Alex Wolff, between this and the recent Jumanji movie has pretty much locked up my interest in whatever he does next. Gabriel Byrne is quietly great this too. Steve clearly needs his own time to process and grieve but is constantly being asked to put his own pain aside and help with everyone else’s. His inner turmoil is palpable on his face, in his voice, and in basically every move he makes.
The performance you are going to hear about all year though is Toni Collette, whose Annie becomes increasingly manic throughout the film, haunted by her own demons and those of her family. It would have been easy for her to go over the top but she never does, at least not until the story sort of requires that. This is one of those performances, both enormous and subtle that if she isn’t nominated for a bunch of awards for we’ll be asking why for years to come.
The result is a scary movie. A very scary movie. I feel now shame admitting that I watched most of the back half of this one through my fingers. To give you and idea how effective all the subversions and tension ramping is: there’s a scene in the third act in which basically nothing happens that scared the shit out of me.
So there it is. Hereditary is not for the faint of heart, but if you like horror movies you should definitely get out and see it while it is still in theatres.