Review: Hereditary (2018)

Hereditary (dir. Ari Aster, 2018) – After the death of the Grahams’ matriarch, the family starts to unravel terrifying secrets about their ancestry.

Verdict

Hereditary pulls its audiences into disorienting madness of suffocating intensity, be it real and imagined.

5/5

Review

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).

Hereditary
A murder of crows.

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 atmosphere, stifling the bravest with the subtlest 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 he has often blindsided audiences with his dark tendencies in the short film circuit by often blindsiding audiences. 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  with an unexpected turning point that 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.

Hereditary
Building a centre for ants.

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 into 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.

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7 thoughts on “Review: Hereditary (2018)

  1. This one is very high on my to watch list of movies that I still NEED to see. Your review was terrific, and as I have already read many great things about it, I hope to finally find some time to see this one 😊

    Like

  2. Great review. I really loved everything about this film until the ending which threw away, in my humble opinion, the emotional journey of the characters on a violent dream/nightmare logic non-sensical denoument. It was scary and horrific but went more for surreal shock. It had much in common with Ben Wheatley’s Kill List which was also brilliant until the very weird ending. I was so with Toni Collette’s character and then. . . (no spoilers). . . .

    Toni Collette deserves awards for this performance. She is outstanding. Interestingly though, other than a brilliant stylistic device, how do you think the miniatures reflected thematically in the film? I guess they show a family trapped and were used portentously. The director deserves much praise for creating a fascinating style and image design which built genuine dread until the final 10 minutes or so.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Toni Collette definitely deserves more recognition for her acting! As for Hereditary’s ending, I can see why people disliked it. Ambiguity could’ve more been interesting. Still, I’d rather liked the traditional horror route the film took, showing off the potential sophistication behind the genre. I haven’t seen Kill List, but I’m now keen on what the weird ending entails.

      I believe you are right on your interpretation of the dollhouse; the Grahams were in a way the miniatures in someone else’s design. Their control appeared illusionary, and the family tragedy was unfortunately inevitable. It’s brilliant symbolism. Can’t wait to see more feature works from Ari Aster!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Terrific review, and right in line with other things I’ve read about this movie, which is definitely on my must-see list. My 18 year old daughter saw it and was unable to explain to me exactly what drew her in so much, what scared her so much, and what it was really even about. Her final explanation- “You just have to see it”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Tony! And I’d agree that Hereditary is hard to distil down to a few words. It’s a film more to be experienced than explained. ‘You just have to see it’ is certainly right! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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