Review: Hereditary (2018)

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Writer/Director Ari Aster makes an impressive feature film debut as an auteur in this inspired take on 1970’s horror channeling the best of Friedkin, Polankski and Kubrick and Robin Hardy.

The 1970’s were the golden age of personal auteur driven horror films. From films like William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, to Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby and Robin Hardy’s original The Wicker Man, genre films in the 1970’s were often a vehicle for exploring the fraillties of humanity. From ennui about one’s chosen path in life, to existential doubt and the loss of personal identity, horror as allegory has often been the most successful because as human beings we find personal horror subjective and thus the most visceral and relatable. The most successful horror films of the past few years have been those that use horror as a vehicle for self exploration of doubt and angst, from Robert Eggers’ The Witch, David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows, to Jordan Peele’s Get Out. Hereditary continues that throughline and invokes the spirit and sense of some of the great horror films of all time while adding an original horror voice to the canon of great modern auteurs working in that genre.

Hereditary starts off with the text of a newspaper obituary announcing the passing of the matriarch of the Graham family, Ellen. Her daughter, Annie (Toni Collette) is an artist working in miniature who has a had a difficult relationship with her late mother most of her life. Their relationship continued its estrangement as her death drew closer, as she developed an unnatural fixation with Annie’s daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro). Her husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) advises her to try and work and move past the loss, as she visits a counseling group in secret to examine her conflicted feelings on family. After a tragic accident occurs involving her son Peter (Alex Wolff), the family’s relationship to each other becomes more and more strained and their family home becomes a literal prison of grief tension serving as a tableau for the dissolution of their family and each family member’s definition of themselves.

The less you know going into Hereditary the better; the film works best as you discover it and rewards multiple screenings. It draws heavy inspiration from The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby and The Wicker Man. Its pacing and slow build of tension of dread, especially early on with its use of pans and slow steadicam framing shots that recall the cinematography and sense of growing isolation and dread from Kubrick’s The Shining. The film itself has much in common thematically and in spirit with classic 70’s horror like Rosemary’s Baby. The Exorcist and The Wicker Man in terms of subject matter and feeling while at the same time adding its own unique voice to that larger genre oeuvre. Its like Get Out in that way, the pacing and cinematography is evocative of the period, with strong committed performances driving the true horror of the piece. Toni Collette gives an amazing performance, channeling Mia Farrow’s Rosemary while reminding you of Shelley Duvall’s Wendy as the film progresses. Ann Dowd gives a nuanced performance as a strong supporting actress, while Alex Wolff does an admirable job of carrying the emotional heart of the film.

See Hereditary this weekend, its the strong original horror film that is both a reminder of great horror while being a new original piece and voice one hopes to experience more from in the future.

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