Director: Ari Aster
Screenwriter: Ari Aster
Runtime: 127 mins.
Australian release date: 7 June 2018
Previewed at: Hoyts, Entertainment Quarter, Sydney, on 7 June 2018.
The new wave horror film Hereditary is written and directed by a first-time filmmaker, Ari Aster. When the star of the film, Toni Collette, was interviewed recently on The Graham Norton Show, the Australian actor expressed her delight at being asked to play the lead, going on to say that she believes Aster has an illustrious career ahead. This may well be the case but the hype that proclaims Hereditary as ‘the scariest horror film ever’ is something of an exaggeration. Tagged as a modern take on the genre, in the vein of other recent horror movies like Get Out, A Quiet Place and Cargo, it has also been compared with Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist. Granted, there are scary scenes, but it doesn’t create the spine-tingling fear that those classics did and it also contains some fairly glaring flaws.
Annie Graham (Toni Collette) is feeling mixed emotions about the recent death of her mother Ellen and during the eulogy at her funeral points out how difficult she was. Annie lives in a large country house in the Utah countryside with her husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), her teenage son Peter (Alex Wolff) and her spooky daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro). Ellen lived with the family, too, and they are all trying to adjust to life without her. Annie’s ambiguous feelings of grief lead her to a meeting of other recently bereaved individuals where she meets Joan (A Handmaid’s Tale’s Ann Dowd), who takes her under her wing and introduces her to the Ouija board. This, of course, lets the genie out of the bottle, so to speak, and as we know from so many films of this genre, genies are hard to get back in their lamps.
Aster said he “wanted to make a film about grief and trauma that showed the corrosive effect they could have on a family, as opposed to showing a family going through loss, suffering and ultimately being strengthened,” and he succeeded in that. This family is certainly not made stronger because of their adversity. Collette gives a terrific performance as a woman who is struggling for answers. She goes through a variety of different emotional states, from deep depression to rapt joy and then to abject terror, while Byrne seems to drag his feet through the whole crisis, totally bewildered by the events taking place round him. The children are integral to the script and both Wolff and Shapiro comport themselves well; Wolff in particular, given that he’s playing younger than his years. The script is clever but unfortunate gaffs throw you out of the story on occasion, like would you send your kid off to an unsupervised party without an epi-pen if they suffer from a severe nut allergy? Also, at the film’s outset great store is put on the family removing their shoes while in the home but thereafter everyone wears their shoes in the house. Huh? Still, the screenplay does go off into a realm that is full of the unknown and the surprise ending is not predictable.
Hereditary will probably do well at the box office and appeal to a younger generation who haven’t seen the truly terrifying films that preceded it, the greats of the horror genre. It does show how grief can put people in headspaces that can be hard to surmount and can overwhelm them. For that reason alone, this is uncomfortable viewing at times. It will be interesting to see what Aster does next because he intends to make another horror film after this before he expands his horizons.