This 2018 supernatural horror/drama marked Ari Aster’s feature film directorial debut, and he came out swinging with one hell of a film (pun only partly intended).
Hereditary showcases Aster’s attention to detail, as well as his ability to tell a tightly-packed, emotionally charged horror story that’s unlike anything else you’ve ever seen.
Following the Graham family in the wake of their grandmother’s death, the film stars Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro and Gabriel Byrne as they grapple with grief, resentment and the supernatural.
I honestly won’t say much more about Hereditary‘s plot – if you’ve not watched it, you really should, and I’d hate to take anything away from that all-important first viewing – but it’s not just the story that makes this such an incredible piece of film. Aster has crafted every scene with such care, and the result is a visually mesmerising spectacle that’s both deeply emotional and disturbing. It’s horror as horror should be done – with a solid core of feeling, and equal parts supernatural and psychological, so that the audience has no idea what’s real and what’s not.
While Aster’s ambition translates beautifully to the screen, it’s not just the writer/director that deserves praise. The actors that make up the Graham family are all spectacular, although special mentions must go to both Wolff and Collette, whose dysfunctional chemistry perfectly captures the trauma-ridden and decidedly strained mother/son relationship.
Collette herself is absolutely outstanding, with many believing her lack of nomination for an Academy Award is one of the Oscars’ biggest snubs of all time – she’s volatile, cold and increasingly unhinged as the film goes along, and the result is a genuinely haunting exploration of grief, manipulation and the supernatural.
A special mention for the film’s many miniatures is also due, with Annie’s models used to create the film’s dollhouse aesthetic, something which Aster saw right through to building the whole house on a soundstage in order to remove walls at will, blurring the lines between the real and the miniature as a method of framing the story.
Technically speaking, Hereditary is an impressive film. The stellar performances from the cast elevate it to something genuinely special, but its relentlessly grounded approach to the horror genre is something that transforms Hereditary into something else entirely – enjoyably haunting with numerous resounding themes.
My one criticism of the film was that its final scene is perhaps a little excessive. It ties up a handful of loose ends in a way that begs even more questions, which is a little frustrating for a film that otherwise feels incredibly meticulous. That said, the final scene is the culmination of two hours of building insanity, and tonally speaking, it rounded things off nicely.
Hereditary is one of those rare films that clearly demonstrates the competence of everyone involved. It’s not the film’s premise, but its execution (pun almost entirely intended) that sells it as one of the most intriguing horror films out there, and it’s made up of far more substance than flash, which is exactly what good horror deserves to be.
Summary: A well-written film brought to life by a uniquely talented director, Hereditary boasts some of the best acting of any horror film out there. Collette and Wolff are outstanding in their respective roles, although it’s writer/director Ari Aster that should be credited with creating something at once incredibly genuine and incredibly disturbing.