For the characters in Hereditary, things start out badly and get progressively worse. For us, it's a different story.
Ari Aster's debut feature is grim and consistently unsettling. He knows how to keep a viewer riveted, getting off to a great start and rarely losing footing afterward. As the opening credits roll, the camera reveals a home straight from what the Japanese call "the uncanny valley." A comfortable, even conventional home, there's something artificial about it. When we finally realize that it's a miniature, the make-believe house morphs into a real one where Steve Graham (Gabriel Byrne) is trying to wake his children. It's the morning of their grandmother's funeral.
85 Cast: Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd, Mallory Bechtel
Director: Ari Aster
Rating: R, for horror violence, disturbing images, language, drug use and brief graphic nudity
Running time: 2 hours, 7 minutes
If Aster's opening shots haven't already established something's off, the eulogy that Annie Graham (Toni Collette) delivers for her mother removes all doubt. Clearly broken up by the death, Annie devotes most of her remarks to her troubles with Mom. Apparently mental illness and dementia contributed to the trying relationship.
Meanwhile, while husband Steve remains stoic, the Grahams' kids, 13-year-old Charlie (Milly Shapiro, who won a Tony for Broadway's Matilda) and her sullen high school-age brother Peter (Alex Wolff) present as pieces of work. Peter does little but flirt with his classmates and smoke dope. Charlie, however, seems like an eerily warped version of Annie, who is an artist renowned for sculpting tiny replicas of scenes from her life. She even constructs an exact reproduction of the hospice where her grandmother died. Yes, this will eventually go into a gallery.
Charlie also makes art of a sort, but whereas Annie uses conventional materials, the younger artist incorporates creepier materials into her work.
If that weren't enough to make Annie fear for her own sanity and the welfare of the rest of her family, apparitions start to show up without warning, and her mom's fanatic devotion to spiritualism may force her to deal with issues most moms don't have to face.
Aster has probably watched Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist; at least he understands why those movies work. His people as just as interesting as any ghastly visual he throws at the audience. Collette effortlessly captures Annie's real fears and anxieties. She looks as if she hasn't slept in months and that protecting her family from harm is getting increasingly futile.
Byrne's work nicely complements hers. Steve may be bothered by the increasingly chaotic string of events coming his way, but he has difficulty expressing his frustration. Wolff nicely switches from inebriated to terrified (sometimes in the same moment), and Ann Dowd (The Handmaid's Tale) is a marvel during her brief time on screen, projecting a hint of condescension and menace as an attendee of a grief therapy session.
MovieStyle on 06/08/2018
Print Headline: Hereditary