Published 12 July 2018
A terrifying creation, HEREDITARY is that rare cinematic beast, both a horror in the class of Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING and an emotionally-charged tragedy that flights around a family’s grieving process over a loved one, and as with the great horror films, of which there are only a handful, these two disparate genres are so expertly entrenched it truly is horrifying to watch them play out together.
“My mother was a very secretive and private woman. She was
a very difficult woman, which maybe explains me”
Fittingly the film starts with a eulogy. Annie has lost her domineering mother. In attendance are her young daughter Charlie, teenage son Peter, and husband Steve. A troubled family unit, each carries on through their own coping mechanisms: Annie in her work, Charlie in her portentous drawings, and Peter in his destructive drug use. Only dad Steve has the wherewithal to remain on an even keel, until even he is consumed, literally. Suffice it to say, if old granny were alive she’d have a lot to answer for.
HEREDITARY as a meditation on grief might just be a masterpiece. As horror it might just be the most petrifying example of the power of cinema. Slow and meditative yet saturated with a sense of dread that never lets up and just degenerates, unlike other horrors involving cursed families and their haunted houses, it’s the malevolent tension and not just crowd-pleasing jump-scares that lingers; it’s made quite clear that for this particular family there can be no escape. That is not to say the story is inadvertently predictable; like in THE SHINING, it’s not just the way it happens, it’s the way it’s told.
Tony Collete has proven to be an astonishing actress, and, as disturbed mother Annie, never has there been a more affecting performance in the horror genre. The look of terror she permeates when she believes she is looking at something in the dark of a room, this on its own should be award-nominating stuff, yet throw into the mix an expertly nuanced display of a gradual degenerative state of mind, a timely one in today’s current social care climate, one that lifts the film from its horror conventions, and there surely needs to be Oscar talk. She is in mostly every scene and you will be unsettled with her until the end, somewhat uneasily so, and by that time you’ll breathe a sigh of relief that it’s finally all over, just so you can watch it again. Other standout performances include Gabriel Byrne as dad Steve, wisely playing it straight-laced over the death of his mother-in-law and carrying it right the way through to incredulity over the disturbing goings-on. And as daughter Charlie, Millie Shapiro is perfectly cast. Sickly vulnerable, that ultimately it’s Charlie’s health that’s propels the film in a shocking new direction is a credit to the multi-layered writing, in that it never fails to merge the supernatural with reality.
Writer/Director Ari Aster uses every horror trick and trope, moody cinematography, menacing use of music, but HEREDITARY isn’t schlock horror for the masses by any means, this is serious, meditative film making dressed up as something monstrous. Indeed, tongue-clucking will never be the same again.
Director: Ari Aster
Writer: Ari Aster
Cinematography: Pawel Pogorzelski
Editors: Jennifer Lame, Lucian Johnston
Music: Colin Stetson
Horror. Tragedy. Drama. Death. Grief. Mental health.
The Bookshop Screening Room
Tags:#Vue # Film review # Horror