Director: Ari Aster
Starring: Toni Colette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Gabriel Byrne, Ann Dowd
Words – Carly Stevenson
Few contemporary horror films of the last decade have been capable of stirring the kind of slow-building, unrelenting anxiety that Hereditary produces in its audience.
The use of imagery and sound is masterful, the casting is superb and the bizarre ending (which I will not divulge) suggests that Aster isn’t afraid to take risks. So far, so good.
Thematically, Hereditary is concerned with matriarchal anxieties, primogeniture and mourning, or, more accurately, the inability to mourn and its repercussions.
The protagonist, Annie Graham (Toni Collette) is a visual artist who specialises in crafting dioramas that recreate unresolved past traumas, most of which involve her recently-deceased, occultist mother. However, the past refuses to be contained within these meticulously-detailed miniatures and the memories that haunt Annie begin to bleed into the Graham household, contaminating everyone within.
This macrocosmic effect is mirrored through Pawel Pogorzelski’s camera work, which makes it seem as if we are peering into one of Annie’s dioramas, only for the camera to zoom out to reveal a shot of the actual house surrounded by vast summits and trees. In one shot, the scene shifts from day to night in a manner reminiscent of the flicking of a light switch, which produces an almost Brechtian effect, in that we are temporarily dislodged from the narrative and suddenly aware of its potential artificiality.
Hereditary is a deeply disturbing family tragedy that asks, but never resolves, the question: what exactly is being inherited? The Hitchcockian build-up tension is genuinely effective and the film never stoops to cheap jump scares, which is a rare feat in an age of seemingly endless Paranormal Activity sequels.
Hereditary subverts expectations and boldly embraces the supernatural in all its Gothic glory, which is something to be championed in a subgenre that has an unfortunate tendency to do away with ambiguity by providing a rational explanation for everything.
It is a promising feature-length directorial debut that serves serious spookiness without compromising on storytelling or character.