Hereditary more like Herediterrifying. I know I’m late to the party but Ari Aster’s supremely disturbing chiller deserves all the hype and more, it’s a beautifully designed, aggressively scary bag of fun that walks a line between being deeply, psychologically upsetting as well as otherworldly, supernaturally haunting. It’s striking to find a debut this good from a first time director, but the guy handles all elements seemingly effortlessly and the result is an immersive, atmospheric, competently staged, elemental fright flick that will literally have you sleeping with the lights on after.
Toni Colette gives the performance of a lifetime as a wife and mother somewhat grieving the loss of her own mom, who was a secretive, difficult old goat in life. Her husband (Gabriel Byrne) is somewhat detached, her two kids (Milly Shapiro, Alex Wolff) have their own issues. It isn’t until further tragedy strikes this family that we begin to see fissures crack in both their individual psyches and relationships as a group. Grief is a hell of a thing and it can turn a family dynamic ugly and venomous pretty quick, but there’s something else circling this clan, an intangible malevolence that I’ll shut up about right now because it’s a diabolical thrill piecing it together along the way. I will say pay attention to *every* frame though, as there are clues aplenty embedded in the visual scape. Colette displays several remarkably realistic meltdowns and I shudder to think of the personal process that led her to that level of mania because she’s downright unnerving. Byrne doesn’t do too many high profile films anymore but it’s always great to see him, he underplays it here but is no less unsettling as a guy who seems uncomfortable around his own family, one of the several taboos the film plays with. Shapiro doesn’t do much as the daughter but her unearthly presence alone is enough to get us squirming, she is one weird looking kid. Wolff, on the other hand, is quite excellent and has a couple scenes of heightened distress that are pretty staggering. A shout-out to character actress Ann Dowd too who, I’m happy to say, is getting more work than ever before these days and finally has a sizeable outlet for her talent.
One aspect that makes this such a freaky thing to sit through is that none of the family members, and no other characters in the film in fact, are really likeable characters. They’re somber, sullen, withdrawn weirdos who make heinous mistakes and harbour unthinkable secrets and when the horrors start coming for them it kind of feels warranted. There’s this blanket of mental unrest and familial turmoil that hangs over everything and provides the film with a canvas of unrest for the paranormal horror to gradually encroach on like fog on the horizon, and the mixture makes for an almost unbearable ride through hell that was the scariest viewing experience for me since 2014’s It Follows. It’s also darkly beautifully though, Aster mounts some detailed, artistic and pagan inspired production design that’s like eye candy, he lights the sets starkly and specifically and plays around with miniatures in transitions and shot compositions for a visual experience like no other. Don’t even get me started on the score by Colin Stetson that plays like a nightmare brought to life, as does this masterpiece of a horror classic.