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Categories: Movie Reviews

Matthew Wilson looks at the latest horror hit, Hereditary, and finds echoes of the horror genre classics coursing through its blood.

For each of the last few years, there seems the be one standout horror movie. From The Babadook to Get Out, the critical renaissance of horror has been interesting and now Hereditary stands as 2018’s entry and well worthy of the title.

Following the death of her mother Ellen, Annie Graham (Toni Collette) tries to help her family come to terms, most notably her 13 year old daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro). To Annie’s surprise though, her husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), her son Peter (Alex Wolff) and even herself aren’t fazed by the loss due to the tremulous relationship Annie had with Ellen. But troubled by her family’s mental history, Annie attempts counselling to deal with the guilt.

It’s during these sessions that she meets Joan (Ann Dowd), an older woman who offers Annie someone to talk to. While at first sceptical, Annie soon finds herself confiding in Joan about the difficulties her family have faced. At home however, the Graham family start to fracture as they feel like something is in the house with them.

From there the horror exists in an ever-growing mystery but it’s bookended by periods of family drama. All building towards something but you can’t yet tell what.

The final half-hour kicks this film into a strange, uncomfortable realm but I was so hooked by the mystery that even as things got totally crazy I was still engrossed in this story. It takes you to places so utterly distressing and unnatural that I’m still surprised they managed to pull it off this well.

Out of all the characters I think Steve had the least to do but he presented the film with its anchoring point, the only character allowing a sense of reality into the storyline. Even with the least showy part, Byrne still kept Steve as a level-headed family man who was slowly broken down by his wife’s anguish. It’s a good role that’s just overshadowed.

Joan was small but memorable role, at first she feels she exists only to give Annie someone to talk to but her place in the story becomes clear after a terrifying scene with a chalkboard. Dowd does this great job with making Joan a overly-friendly, not so much that you distrust her but the permanent smile in such a downtrodden film is suspicious and you’re never sure where you stand with her.

Daughter Charlie gives the film its first twinges of unease, she always feels a little off. Whether it was her disregard for her nut allergy or her desecration of a bird corpse, Charlie wasn’t all there even from the start and Shapiro nailed the thousand yard stare that made her such an uneasy character. I don’t want to explain too much because Charlie factors heavily into the film’s second act and her character turn is too good to be spoiled on.

Her brother Peter at first seems like the typical teenage son but, like Charlie, he takes a sudden turn in the second act that gives him whole emotions to use; most notably an attack of PTSD. It’s Wolff’s ability to give Peter this ‘Weight of the World’ look to him, coupled with a fracturing relationship with his mother, that’s driven by a troubled history which makes him such an easy character to root for.

Annie is easily the standout though. As she explains herself, Annie had a difficult relationship with her mother. But the guilt of being unable to reconcile before Ellen’s death drives her towards seeking help. It’s after the big turn in the story that Annie becomes a different character, her emotions are thrown out of tune and it’s only exacerbated by whatever is haunting their house. It all serves to make Annie unpredictable but Collette sells the hell out of it, never fully letting us believe Annie is crazy but, also, not quite sane.

For his surprising debut feature, Ari Aster delivers some classic old-school horror. To be clear this is a very slow burn. For the first hour, the scares are limited and, even then, focus more on unsettling you. It’s all really tense and there’s a good reason this is being compared to The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby, because that same fear is here with lingering chill rather than one-and-done jump-scares.

For the majority of the first half though, the film is actually more focussed on the family dynamic. Which works in its favour because that time watching these four collapse allows the craziness to mean something more. The scenes between Annie and Peter, particularly, with a confessional between them carrying a lot of emotional weight. What’s great is that while slow, there’s no fat on these scenes. Almost everything ends up meaning something else and the through-line that ties the story together will make it that much stronger on revisit.

It’s in that final half-hour that Aster throws you into the deep end without warning with revelations, self-harm, visions, all of it playing a part that brings all the mystery, all the unease and all the confusion together for a mighty crash. Aster has done such an incredible job with dread and misdirection, where he takes the film is a left-turn but it’s not out of nowhere and that is what makes it stand out all the more.

Hereditary will stick with you. It is distressing, uncomfortable, but totally engaging. This is a true-blue horror film that earns its place as one of the genre’s best modern efforts. A story about grief that naturally evolves into something far greater. Colette and Wolff adding the emotional weight necessary to drive the film and a first time director with the confidence to know that evil things will come to those who wait.

Hereditary is out now in cinemas.

Matthew Wilson

Operating out of Livingston, Scotland, Matthew Wilson has been self-publishing reviews since 2012 - amassing over 1000 and climbing on his personal account at MovieFanCentral- and has produced a number of short films for his Graded Unit at Edinburgh College. Matthew hopes to start writing and directing his own productions one day, having written several unpublished scripts for film and television.

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Posted on Jun 22, 2018

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