HORROR; 2hr 7min
STARRING: Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro
Fear factor: Collette
Even before their personal phantoms make an aberrant entrance, it’s obvious something is off with the Graham family. At the funeral of grandmother Ellen, nobody sheds a tear. Her composed daughter, miniature-model maker Annie (Collette), delivers a mixed-message eulogy while Annie’s 13-year-old daughter, Charlie (Shapiro), sketches a caricature in a notebook, much to the disapproval of her careworn father, and Annie’s husband, Steve (Byrne). Charlie’s flat affect and dull gaze spell Bad Seed even without her strange clicking noises and creepy inclinations. Her older brother, stoner Peter (Wolff), seems somewhat better adjusted to begin with — quite a feat in a family whose mental history isn’t, to put it kindly, as robust as it could be. But nobody in the Grahams’ sombre, secluded, dark-wood household will remain intact—or stay safely dead—for long.
Sombre is about the size of it all round in an acute meditation on grief that dials up the misery notch by tormented notch. With horror films that shoot for more than cheap scares, the payoff for audiences lies in their investment in anticipation. As Annie falls apart, her flayed outbursts (which Collette fairly eats alive) are blistering and raw. But the real art of Hereditary’s impact lies in the implacable slow build that first-time feature filmmaker Ari Aster plays like a virtuoso. The thrumming score, unblinking close-ups, deliberate framing and sepulchral lighting could be setting the scene for any number of unhappy outcomes, the demons of inter-generational mental illness looming large among them. If the uncertainty of that is progressively unnerving (and, oh boy, is it ever), its grotesque resolution is at once all too human and transcendently insane.