The hopes were high for this one. With an excellent first trailer and a good amount of hype surrounding the film and the performances, I was hoping for a really good, effective horror experience. Did it live up to this early promise?
Starting with Annie Graham (Toni Collette) eulogising at the funeral of her mother, Ellen we almost immediately get a glimpse into the friction and mystery that Ellen has cast over her family. In the aftermath of this, and other dramatic events, stranger things start to happen around the Graham family and as the mystery and secrecy are unravelled things take a darker path.
A24 once again have chosen to bring the dread, the atmosphere and the fear to the audience. Choosing to put their money behind a film that prioritises taking its time to build up the feel of the film over the quick pay off, and that is something that I love about the recent horror films that A24 have championed (The Witch, It Comes At Night, The Green Room, The Monster). In this latest film Hereditary also does this with aplomb, combining themes of grief and repression really well with the creeping dread of something dark developing.
Central to the success of this film is the superb performance of Toni Collette as Annie as she struggles to come to terms with her loss, struggles to work out if she should feel any loss at all for someone who she didn’t really connect with and who, it becomes clear, she didn’t really know at all. Slowly but surely we see Annie lose piece by piece of her sanity and her attachment to her place in this world, becoming untethered, unhinged and completely unstable.
Steve (Gabriel Byrne) is the rock in all their lives, obviously the only constant in this ever increasing madhouse, and it is a shame that he doesn’t have a more prominent, and important, role to play. Charlie (Milly Shapiro) is distant and weird, closer to her grandmother than her mother and more effected than Annie about her passing. In a really effective turn from Alex Wolff as Peter we really do get a sense about his character as the outlier, using drugs and being a bit of a misfit. He doesn’t seem to fit into this family, which is explained more in the film about this, and the shocking early events make him even more isolated.
The fantastic work building towards the big finale is somewhat let down for me by taking things slightly too far which detracts from the overall excellent crescendo. Being very reminiscent of some horror films of days gone by and especially with the ending striking chords with Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen. I can imagine that managing to succeed in creating the kind of ending without bordering on going too far is hard to do and, unfortunately this doesn’t quite manage it.
Overall Hereditary is cinematically impressive, utilising lots of interesting camera angles and movement, rotating the scenes to reveal more. The scares and fear are well constructed and the unsettling aura it maintained throughout with some truly outstanding moments of shock. Ari Aster, in his debut feature, has done a fantastic job in controlling the tension and fear, the level of hysteria, until it is unleashed at the opportune moment. The performance of Toni Collette’s controlled, slow breakdown is enthralling to watch as this family comes apart at the seams.