Ari Aster’s debut horror film, Hereditary, is a dark, brooding, gut punch of grief and guilt. It stars Toni Collette as Annie, a mother and artist who has just lost her own mother. There’s relief mixed with this grief, as her mother was a strange and very private person. She mainly has to console her daughter, Charlie (Milly Shapiro) who is a bit of a social oddity. Her clicking and creepy drawings are one thing, but cutting off a pigeon’s head is a whole different level of weird. Soon, more tragedy strikes the family and there seems to be a sinister force pushing them toward either disaster or greatness.
Over the past decade, Toni Collette has become one of my favorite actresses and in my opinion her performance in Hereditary is her best to date. I was honestly hoping she would secure an Oscar nomination for her role here, but that didn’t happen. Collette pulls off this perfect combination of maternal exhaustion, relief and frustration in the first act to really set up who she is. When the unimaginable happens her screams and cries of raw, primal grief tear at your soul. My favorite moment is the dinner scene, where she lashes out at her son, Peter (Alex Wolff). Whether she’s scared, angry, skeptical or at her lowest, she’s always believable and spot on and we feel her pain.
After giving this movie a second viewing, I’ve noticed so many little details that connect to so many thought provoking themes I can only scratch the surface in one review. The way the house is so dark and confining mirrors back to Annie’s miniature works and makes me think of the ants that we cannot unsee. Then there’s the beheading… and fire… but I don’t want to give too much away for anyone who hasn’t seen the film. And then it all connects back to the grandma’s mysterious past. Like they said in Peter’s class, it’s all inevitably leading to the hero’s tragic end.
And poor Peter! He’s just being a typical teenager and he gets steered into this awful mess. After his big accident, he’s rightfully so distant and depressed, gnawed by his guilt and grief. Wolff does a wonderful job in his performance, especially in that last classroom scene.
Hereditary is a great horror film, one of the best this decade (which has seen an abundance of great horror). The story and characters are sympathetic and captivating. It can be a slow burn at times, really adding to the family drama, but before you know it the sinister forces propel this film into overdrive and leave you gasping and your stomach churning.
I love and hate how I often I think about this movie when I wake up in the middle of the night. I’m honored to say that this is one of the few movies that has truly freaked me out and given me nightmares in my adulthood. Maybe it’s because I’m a mom now and I’m afraid of loss like Annie experiences. Maybe the idea of sleepwalking and lighting that match is too much. Or maybe it’s that ending in the tree house that makes my skin crawl. It’s all so raw and and terrifying that it can be hard to shake. And I love it.
“There’s nothing I can say and nothing I can do ‘cause… it happened.”