Hereditary movie cast: Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Gabriel Byrne
Hereditary movie director: Ari Aster
Hereditary movie rating: 3 stars
Hereditary begins with a death, and with a strange eulogy. The daughter, Annie (Collette), of the woman who has died, remembers her mother as an intensely secretive, private person, and confesses she is surprised at the number of “strange, unknown” people who have turned up to bid her goodbye. Some more minutes in, there is another, stranger, horrific death, that strikes unexpectedly and hurts more deeply.
Yet, it is not death that haunts Hereditary. It is the living.
In his first full-length feature film as director, Aster, also the writer of Hereditary, does the simplest of things – he reverses the horror trope of a haunted child and a distraught mother. Now imagine what we have here? A woman who may be losing it, who may have already lost it, who has a genetic lineage of mental conditions, and who now holds in her hands the fate of her two confused and nervous children, a clueless husband, a flourishing career and an inflammable home. Can the world imagine a horror worse than a mother who could harm, really harm?
As we watch her every move, around her children; around those tiny dioramas she makes of events of her life for a museum exhibit, not sparing even the unpleasant details; around her distressed daughter; around the things of her late, disturbed mother; around the decisions she takes flailing about for answers, Hereditary is a film of breathing, tangible horror.
Through some exquisite turns by Collette and use of lighting bringing out her pale face and those watchful eyes, we are never allowed to stray too far from that question no one is asking: is everything alright with Annie? It is a credit to the detail that both Collette and Aster bring to her character, who the world would judge as (at best) an ambiguous mother, that we are also left asking at times: is really anything wrong with her?
If only the film had stuck to that theme. Just when we are marvelling at the horror that can be wrought from family dynamics around a polished dinner table, Aster ditches the fork for the pitchfork.