Ari Aster delivers a deceptively artistic treat disguised as a horror film.
In his feature film directorial debut, Ari Aster has pieced together a timely and artistic achievement. Toni Collette stars in Hereditary, a delectable piece of horror grittiness that's so pristine in its presentation that the thrills are second only to the impeccable cinematography and unflinching performances. It burns slowly, bringing about a punch of a finale that will have you talking for long after the credits roll.
Collette stars as Annie Graham, an artist who lives in a beautiful, quiet house in the middle-of-nowhere Utah. Her husband, Steve (Gabriel Byrne), and teenage children, Peter (Alex Wolff) and Charlie (newcomer Milly Shapiro), seem to wander around their lives in a haze after the death of Annie's mother, Ellen. The eeriness starts soon, with Ellen's grave being dug up and Milly's insightful but strange questions. After other dire circumstances, Annie decides to attend group therapy, where she meets Joan (Ann Dowd), a friendly force who later opens the door to possibly sinister means.
The prize of Aster's screenplay is Annie's spiral towards paranoia. She admittedly suppresses her past traumas, including fateful sleepwalking episodes, that were caused by her upbringing, especially in regards to her relationship with her late mother. Those around her begin the journey by offering her support, but their concern quickly turns towards fear as she seems to dig deeper and deeper into darkness.
Presented with beautiful cinematography, thanks to Pawel Pogorzelski, and an enchanting score by Colin Stetson, Hereditary isn't your typical genre flick. There's a certain prestige about its beauty that elevates it beyond a run-of-the-mill horror tale. Parts were filmed on location in the woodsy outskirts of Salt Lake City, but it's the details in the way the house is developed that really adds to the film's best features. Filmed on a sound stage, Aster had walls removed to allow the cameras to frame each shot inside the home as if we were looking inside a doll house or one of Annie's miniature sculptures depicting real-life moments. Her and her family act as almost-pawns in the grander scheme of the plot, as they should, revealing the darkness wrapped around the hidden places of the home at just the right moments.
Cleverly sculpted with Aster's screenplay and the cast's performances, Hereditary serves as a refreshing look at the power of family, especially one so closely drawn to insanity. It's hard to divulge too much without spoiling some of the better portions of the plot, but the decision to explore religion and familial responsibilities is commendable. Collette, especially, dives into her manic character by offering a subtle glimpse into her growing impatience and depression. Horror doesn't generally translate well when it comes to awards season, but if there ever was an actress deserving of that kind of attention, it's Collette. The Best Actress field is packed this year; hopefully, this performance will stick around when the time for voting is here.
Hereditary isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea. It's frightful, in a slow burning way. There are very few jump-scares, but enough whimsical weirdness to parlay those typical tropes into a new set of rules. It's the type of film, horror or not, that is just ruthless enough to stick around in your brain for a while, offering plenty of material on which the chew.