Review by J.T. Johnson
“Hereditary” is a horror film where you want to go do something fun afterwards to shake off the disturbing effects of what you just saw. It’s a slow burn horror film that conveys a genuinely dark tone throughout with more subtle scares than just having something jump out at you. It also uses its supernatural elements to highlight very real traumas, in this case mental illness and the ability for it to pass down from one generation to the next.
Annie Graham (Toni Collette), a miniatures artist, has just buried her mother Ellen. She explains that her relationship with her mother was never really close as Ellen seemingly went through the loss of her husband and son to mental illness. While Annie never let her mother have a relationship with Annie’s son Peter (Alex Wolff), Ellen was extremely close with Annie’s reserved daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro).
After Ellen’s funeral, strange things begin happening around the house. Through most of the movie, though, you learn that Annie used to sleep walk and that most of what the family goes through may be due simply to Annie’s own deteriorating mental state. Meanwhile, a surprising twist in the story seems to set in motion many events that lead to the film’s surprising and disturbing climax.
One of the things that I loved about this particular horror story is that I must admit that I didn’t know where it was going. Sure, I can see the influences of other horror films such as “The Exorcist” and “Rosemary’s Baby” at play here, but writer and director Ari Aster creates one of the more original horror stories that I’ve seen in quite some time. It also helps that Aster has assembled one hell of a cast to bring the Graham family to life.
Gabriel Byrne is great as the strong yet silent husband that is trying to just keep his family together and protect them. Wolff is great as the son who realizes that his mother may not have wanted him in the first place and can sense the resentment she sometimes has for him. Shapiro is just creepy as hell as Charlie, a character who also makes a nervous clicking noise with her tongue that effectively comes into play throughout the movie.
Above them all though is Collette as Annie. She has a unique challenge as she has to portray a character that may simply be out of her mind. Yet, she also has to play the role of a woman who is merely concerned for the safety of her family and that there may be something far more sinister going on.
The role of Annie allows Collette to display a wide range of emotions and give one of the best performances she has ever given. At first, she is the emotionlessly cut off daughter who worries about the fact that she’s not sadder about the death of her mother. Then, she has to play the very emotional mother who is trying to figure out what is going on for the sake of her family.
Ultimately, “Hereditary” is an effective psychological horror story with a supernatural edge. It contains several great performances from its cast and a story with many twists and turns, some of which you’ll still be thinking about when the credits begin to roll. The movie also ends up being a triumphant debut for its writer and director, Ari Aster.