Hereditary (dir. Ari Aster, 2018) – After the death of the Grahams’ matriarch, the family starts to unravel terrifying secrets about their ancestry.
Hereditary pulls us deep into disorienting madness of suffocating intensity, both real and imagined.
The Grahams are haunted, though ghosts play little part in their malaise. Hereditary takes a leaf from Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby that takes interest in deep-seated human paranoia with just a side of the supernatural, clawing the surface mud for invisible anxieties beneath the everyman.
Such fears have consumed Annie (Toni Collette) from a very young age. Some of which owes to her mother, whose mysterious past hides ancestral secrets darker than she ever imagined. The revelations pull Annie into the cabalistic world that soon endangers her husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) and teenage children Peter (Alex Wolff) and Charlie (Milly Shapiro).
Accusations of ‘predictable’ would ignore the understated elegance of how the haunting unfolds. There are few explicit displays of horror. Director Ari Aster proves himself a master of subtlety, stifling the bravest with but atmospheric hints of the malefic. At the same time, he conjures deeper fears rooted in reality – in grief and guilt borne of secrets.
It is his distinctive style, as seen in how his morbid tendencies have so often blindsided audiences in the short film circuit. Seven years ago, The Strange Thing About The Johnsons made waves online with its controversial portrayal of familial crimes behind closed doors. 2015’s Munchausen tackled the syndrome of its namesake, treating its dark subject matter with unsettling levity in style and score.
In Hereditary, he retreads his signature approach. An unexpected turning point warns: There is no preparing of the worst to come. A sudden tragedy evokes overwhelming dread that never lets up, its credibility bolstered by Wolff’s incredible performance and above all, Aster’s weaponised silence.
All is in the details, which is what elevates Hereditary above the usual horror fare. Aster’s skilful execution includes Annie’s building of miniatures, which not only allows for disquieting close-ups. In her miniatures, she never creates scenes of her own and instead, constantly recreates what has already happened. It is as though the new matriarch of the family has long relinquished her control and given in to fate.
There is no greater terror than her show of genuine despair, not even in the definitively supernatural conclusion of the nightmare. Hope ebbs away, with seemingly no stopping of what is to come. Every act of defiance appears bound to end in fatal catastrophe, the inevitability of the family’s fate playing out like a pre-written tragedy.