By midlandsmovies, Oct 5 2018 10:23AM
Hereditary (2018) Dir. Ari Aster
In his first film, director Ari Aster tackles sinister themes and mixes a slow-pace build up with horror frights in a mish-mash of tones in new film Hereditary. Opening with a zoom into a dollhouse, we are immediately pushed into a world controlled by bigger hands as Annie Graham (Toni Collette) mourns the death of her mother before sharing her family’s tragic history with a grief support group.
Her daughter Charlie (a disturbed Milly Shapiro) is a distant tongue-clucking junior who after joining her brother Peter (Alex Wolff) at a house party is decapitated in a car accident. In a haunting scene of shock, Peter heads straight to bed leaving his mother to uncover the horrid truth the next day. Splitting the family’s cohesion and plagued by visions, Annie is approached by Joan, a member of the support group, who promises Annie answers to the mysteries in her life.
It is here where the film will win you over or not. The intrigue, drama and deliberate pace take a turn and we enter – for want of a better comparison – “Sinister” territory. The previous tone is ditched in favour of some nonsense Ouija shenanigans and shifting glasses on tables akin to Elsie Partridge’s seance in Only Fools and Horses.
Some will see the change as a ramp up of the first half’s conundrums whilst I can imagine many feeling cheated about the bait and switch as we get the more standard genre tropes of spooky visions, nightmares made real and flaming bodies.
Collette gives an absolute star turn though as the wickedly wild woman of the story but shows restraint in more conflicted scenes to balance the hectic finale. Unlike her motherly turn in The Sixth Sense (1999), it is now her turn to see ghosts and visions.
Gabriel Byrne as her husband is sadly a little wasted, and as the realisation the film revolves around an ancient entity seeking a modern (and male) host, the final few scenes did illicit a few gaffaws – akin to my experience of The VVitch. However, despite some of its tonal inconsistencies I enjoyed the film far more than both aforementioned The VVitch and the similarly lauded The Babadook. Both of whom failed to engage me with their apparently “unsettling” but, to me, utter flat delivery.
The film’s themes of inescapable family failings are dissected throughout with a number of strange cult symbols and recurring images (heads are forever rolling in both ways) that are littered through the movie's narrative. And they hint upon and foreshadow the horrors soon to be arriving. Towards its conclusion, Collette’s Annie stalks rooms like a bird of prey – hiding in corners awaiting a chance to strike – and Aster delivers a string of scary sequences which are effective and genuinely unnerving.
Not without its flaws – and for me, certainly nowhere near the praise being thrown at it – Hereditary is a strong showing from a debut director which warrants multiple viewings to fully appreciate its complex domestic themes and doorway into the private (doll)house of a cursed family.