Hereditary
Directed by Ari Aster
Starring: Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro
Rated R for horror violence, disturbing images, drug use and brief graphic
nudity
2 hrs. 7 mins.

Hereditary is terrifying. Hereditary is also confusing. You might see it as a
classic in the same category as Rosemary’s Baby, or you might just
dismiss it as a load of hooey. Given the storyline you have to deal with,
either choice has strong arguments.

Annie Graham (Toni Collette) and family have just buried her mother, Ellen.
Annie admits during a eulogy at the funeral that her mother was secretive
and very hard to read.

Annie’s daughter, Charlie (Milly Shapiro), begins to complain that her
grandmother is appearing to her. Of course, nobody believes her, least of
all her mother or her father, Steve (Gabriel Byrne).

Peter (Alex Wolff), their teenage son, wants to go to a friend’s party.
When he asks Annie to borrow the car, she forces him to take his sister.
While at the party, Charlie, who is allergic to peanuts, eats a piece of
chocolate cake made with nuts and goes into anaphylactic shock. While
racing to get his sister to the hospital, Charlie throws her head out the
car window to get more air. Alex has to swerve to avoid a dead animal in
the road and his sister is decapitated by a telephone pole.

Torn by her loss, Annie tries to find consolation in a grief support group.
She meets Joan (Ann Dowd) and forms a friendship. At a chance meeting in a
local shopping mall, Joan invites Annie to a seance, where they encounter
the spirit of Joan’s dead grandson, Luke.

This experience leads Annie to explore her own mother’s involvement with
spiritualism. As Annie begins to have dark dreams, she becomes more
convinced that Charlie’s spirit is haunting the house and that her son,
Peter, is the key to understanding her mother’s secrets.

Ari Aster, who directed and wrote the film, uses quiet to his advantage. In
fact, as the story unwinds, you wonder if this is a horror film or a family
drama. It’s clear that something is troubling the family, and Aster creates
tension by using the camera as a set of eyes to watch every family member
as they drift in and out of each other’s orbits.

The death of Charlie seems to be a catalyst to shift gears, and as the
tension between Annie and Steve grows, so grows the horror that is the
film’s backdrop.

But somewhere along the way, Aster the writer leaves the audience in the
dark, so to speak. He seems to assume that we’ll follow the progression of
the Graham family’s demonic possession. Unfortunately, this turns the plot
into a murky stew in which we’re left guessing at the recipe. Meanwhile,
it’s full speed ahead into demonic darkness with Peter as the final
ingredient.

Aster is more successful in capturing the visuals of his demonic vision.
Though quiet is his tool, visuals are his means, and he doesn’t hold back.
From immolation to ants to headless corpses, it’s the horror in this movie
that will hold an audience’s attention.

He’s also able to cast doubt on the reality of what you’re seeing. From
Annie’s dark dreams to the symbiotic connection of the film to her art,
Aster uses your eyes to confound your mind and force you to ask: What am I
seeing?

Aster combines his visuals with scenes that bring to mind the burgeoning
rage of family, captured so intimately by Ingmar Bergman inFanny and Alexander and even Robert Redford in Ordinary People.

Hereditary may or may not be a horror classic. Only time will tell. But it’s not
ordinary horror either. It has a strong sense of vision, even if its
storyline leaves you guessing. You’ll probably have a lot of unanswered
questions in the end, but the holy terror of its premise is raw and lurid.

Small town, quiet street. Don’t be fooled. This family could definitely use
a priest.