Film review: ‘HEREDITARY’, by Nick Gardener from ‘Built for Speed’

Creepy, slow-burn supernatural horror film Hereditary is one of the more stylish additions to the genre of recent times and announces an impressive new filmmaking talent in writer/ director Ari Aster who makes his feature debut here.

Hereditary sees the Graham family: Annie (Toni Collette), Stephen (Gabriel Byrne), late-teen son Peter (Alex Wolff) and 13-year-old daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) slowly unravelling after the death of Annie’s mother. When another tragedy strikes, the family begin to experience strange, unexplained and increasingly distressing phenomena which, as Annie discovers, may be linked to a bizarre family history.

Like the best supernatural horror films Hereditary works hard to establish a believable world so that any scares are more visceral and effective. Rather than launch into a barrage of shocks, Aster slowly pieces together mysterious fragments that have us feverishly guessing as to what’s happening. He effectively adds increasingly frightening incidents as strange names appear on the walls, unexplained beams of light sweep past people and more deadly events occur.

Hereditary has been hailed as this generation’s Exorcist but while often very tense and featuring a couple of excellent pop-out scares, Hereditary is never as chilling as The Exorcist and won’t have the social impact of William Friedkin’s malevolent classic. It has more in common with Rosemary’s Baby which is a fine recommendation in itself. It also occasionally echoes other horror classics such as Poltergeist and The Changeling. As much as a horror film, though, this is a dark, brooding, family drama driven by themes of guilt, grief, domestic conflict and possibly mental breakdown.

Hereditary is also just as much an artistic statement as a fright-fest and continues a recent trend in horror cinema – as seen in films such as The Witch and It Follows – in which European arthouse sensibilities take precedence over ugly, simplistic slasher and torture porn. With his meticulous framing, deliberate pacing and striking use of colour, Aster’s film also at times recalls the work of Stanley Kubrick. As in Kubrick’s films, Hereditary’s mood is often driven by music and Aster employs extremely ominous orchestral and electronic pieces that will be ringing in audiences’ minds for days after seeing the film – as will one of the character’s vocal tics.

Hereditary also makes excellent use of creepy dolls as Annie creates tiny representations of her life (gruesome deaths and all) for an art installation. The images of her carefully constructing and arranging these models alludes to the idea of a sinister manipulative power at work in their lives.

The film benefits from a fine cast. Toni Collette recalls her Sixth Sense character as a mother trying to cope with supernatural forces although this time those forces are much more malevolent. The film centres on Annie and Collette’s intense and at times manic performances fuels its sense of unease. Like the young boy in Poltergeist the son Peter cops the brunt of supernatural harassment and Alex Wolff convincingly plays a young guy heading over the edge of sanity. As the younger sister and lightning rod for spooky occurrences, Milly Shapiro is both disturbing (including her fondness for decapitation) and sympathetic as a troubled youngster. The only real disappointment in terms of character development is Gabriel Byrne as the father who is a little underused here.

Hereditary is arguably more build-up than pay-off but in constructing the Graham family’s unnerving world this film is nearly always remarkable.

Nick’s rating: ****

Genre: Horror.

Classification: MA 15+.

Director(s): Ari Aster.

Release date: 7th June 2018.

Running time: 127 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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