Believe the hype, Hereditary will leave you feeling uncomfortable and unnerved, writes Darren Bevan.
Blending psychological terror, a portrait of grief, and some bravura directorial touches from a debuting Ari Aster, Hereditary is being acclaimed as the scariest film since The Exorcist.
It’s a claim which detracts from the film and which piles expectation unfairly onto the indie release – but it is pleasing to note that over the course of an extremely unsettling two hours, Aster’s debut is as exciting as it is enticing.
A tautly wound Toni Collette plays Annie, a grieving mother who’s just lost her apparently monstrous mother. As the film begins, the family is recovering post funeral, with her daughter Charlie (newcomer Milly Shapiro) claiming to see the grandmother, and with son Peter (an utterly terrific Alex Wolff) becoming more distant. Barely supported by her husband Steve (an understated Gabriel Byrne), Annie begins to experience visions.
Drenching everything in dread, and employing some of the usual tropes of the horror genre (long, slow pans, a rising soundtrack), Hereditary feels compulsively fresh and equally sickening. While the ending feels a little rushed and almost laughable, the great majority of Hereditary is genuinely chilling stuff. Especially when the cards are stacked in favour of a possession tale rather than a supernatural explanation for everything.
Hereditary works best in large swathes when considered as a treatise on grief. Certainly Collette and Wolff are terrific, delivering performances which captivate as the cameras linger on them and their growing and increasingly weird predicaments.
Aster’s the main star here though – whether it’s a clever opening shot that takes us inside a dollhouse or the transition between night and day that feels like a switch flicking on, Aster’s aesthetics and eye for precision demand – and command – respect.
Ultimately, while Hereditary‘s end will prove rightfully polarising to much of the audience, the film’s overall grip and commitment to its destination demonstrate its reason to be viewed – it’s genuinely the most uncomfortable you will feel in the cinema since The Babadook.
Cast: Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd
Director: Ari Aster