Horror, as a genre, has become rote, all about jump scares, gore, and a by the numbers approach to storytelling to ensure enough of the central cast is alive for future installments. Hereditary thankfully, and gloriously, eschews most norms of the typical horror flick, while still existing in the field, and upping whatever metric is used to measure things on a scale of disturbing to nightmare fuel.
The less you know, the better, as the way the story shifts and moves unexpectedly is part of the appeal. Toni Collette is Annie, mourning the loss of her mother, with whom she shared a complicated relationship. In her professional life Annie works in miniatures, recreating scenes from her life, past and present. At home, she has dutiful husband, an always stoic Gabriel Byrne, and two children, high-school stoner Peter (Alex Wolff, surprisingly not adopted) and somewhat weird Charlie (Milly Shapiro). Annie meets a friend at a recovery group, played by an always reliable, and almost always creepy Ann Dowd (even when she’s trying not to be). And then, well, stuff happens. And then more stuff and then oh my god what did I just see.
Writer-director Ari Aster’s first feature is ambitious, has tremendous faith in the audience and lays out clues for a story before you even know that he’s telling it. The use of miniatures adds an interesting look to the film, and even shots of the real world have a claustrophobic sense, as if existing in a playhouse, shot from high angles with a stark foreground. Collette brings her A game, creating a thoroughly distinct character exploring her own relationships and coming to terms with how we are affected by our loved ones, even as we are estranged by them. Wolff is equally amazing, balancing his lazy teenager stereotype with the more emotionally overwrought scenes required of him.
The movie loses a few points in the final moments because that faith in the audience is shuttered for overt explanations, where none were required. That aside, it’s still a thrilling, disturbing, creepy film, that is worth catching.
My Grade – A-