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Review: Hereditary taps into family fears to become truly terrifying

PUBLISHED: 15:55 15 June 2018 | UPDATED: 15:55 15 June 2018

Hereditary. Photo: Entertainment Film Distributors/Reid Chavis

Hereditary. Photo: Entertainment Film Distributors/Reid Chavis

Entertainment Film Distributors/Reid Chavis

Writer-director Ari Aster's twisted family portrait offers up creeping dread that will sends beads of sweat trickling down your spine by peeling away the layers of darkness and deceit that condemn one grief-stricken family to a grim fate.

Hereditary. Photo: Entertainment Film Distributors/Reid ChavisHereditary. Photo: Entertainment Film Distributors/Reid Chavis

Hereditary (15)

****

According to the sides of the buses Hereditary is “a new generation’s The Exorcist”. This is severely underselling it; Hereditary is having a tilt at all of the great horror films.

Name any classic and I reckon you’ll find a reference to it here somewhere. Ari Aster’s debut feature is freakishly assured, with superb performances and perfectly composed images. Where the hell did he get the nerve to do a two hour plus horror film first time out? Clearly he was born to do it.

Hereditary. Photo: Entertainment Film Distributors/Reid ChavisHereditary. Photo: Entertainment Film Distributors/Reid Chavis

The Exorcist, of course, particularly worked on susceptible people of a religious disposition. Hereditary is filled with seances, apparitions and all kinds of mumbo jumbo but it should work on the most rationalist of viewers too because it is basically a family drama, where dark secrets and long buried memories of thoughtless deeds and words are brought to the surface.

Honestly, I think the most shocking moment, the biggest gasp, is a line of dialogue blurted out by Toni Collette as the mother.

Early on Collette reads a grudging eulogy to her mother, and wonders who are all these unfamiliar faces who have turned up for the burial of this secretive and bitter woman. She and the rest of her family are going to find out that some horrors you are born into; or in Gabriel Byrne’s case married into.

There isn’t really anything new going on here. The frights are standard yaboo efforts: figures half seen in the dark; the camera pulling back from a tight close up to reveal something ghastly in close proximity. The difference is the precision of their execution and the emotional depth given to them.

Hereditary. Photo: Entertainment Film Distributors/Reid ChavisHereditary. Photo: Entertainment Film Distributors/Reid Chavis

The first shot is of a model house and the camera glides into its bedroom which becomes the bedroom of the actual house. It’s been done before, but here it casually instils a sense of this family being small and insignificant and at the mercy of bigger forces, which lasts the whole movie.

The film is rooted in three remarkable performances. Somewhere along the way, Byrne seems to have had his backbone removed, and it really suits him. As the father, he offers another masterclass in playing a crumpled shell. Colette has the big role as the highly strung, sometimes hysterical mother trying to keep it together in the wake of a tragedy. It is a belter of a performance and she is getting all the plaudits.

But, for me, the pick is Alex Wolff (also to be seen in the recent My Friend Dahmer) as the son; his sense of trauma is so compelling it ties you into the horror and gives real resonance to every jump and scare.

You get a powerful sense of what a strain it must be for them to sleep under the same roof. This is not a horror film where you can laugh off the shocks. Though it does have plenty of dark humour.

Usually in horror films, the desire to keep an audience dangling from hooks leads to the plot development becoming contrived. But, thinking back over Hereditary, everything seems to be justified, everything pay offs. It doesn’t flag for a moment, keeps going to the very last moment. Even the musical choice for the closing credit is inspired.

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