Few recent movies I've seen have instilled a greater sense of dread than Hereditary. The debut film of director Ari Aster, Hereditary looks like a modern horror film in the Blumhouse Style (this was distributed by A24), yet at the same time wisely uses tropes from the 1970s, especially Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist. The sense of dread also recalls an Ingmar Bergman film, Through A Glass Darkly comes to mind. While not without flaws, it proves a horror movie can still send out chills. I would never call Hereditary a fun experience (The Shining is fun), but a compelling one that will touch some raw nerves. A nuclear family meltdown of the first degree.
Toni Collette stars as Annie, an artist with a husband and two kids. The story begins with Annie delivering her Mom's eulogy, a mother with whom she was estranged for most of her life. She speaks of her mother being a private person, hinting at a history of mental illness. Her son Peter (Alex Wolff) appears carefree and likes to smoke pot, but the daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) is deeply troubled. Gabriel Byrne, always a welcome presence, plays the supportive husband Steve.
Without going into further plot details, an awful tragedy occurs at about the 30 minute mark and everything goes downhill from there. There's a multi-dimensional horror to Hereditary: the fear of death, the dull pain of grief, disconnection from loved ones, inheriting the sins of the past - not even taking into account the supernatural elements that are introduced.
Hereditary runs over 2 hours, yet never feels overlong, and at the same time you want it to end. These characters are going through misery and it's hard to watch at times. Yet there's a sly humor that comes at the most unexpected of times The performances are excellent, especially Toni Collete. Aster's direction is steady and methodical, avoiding those annoying jump scares, often holding back and just letting things happen.
Hereditary is as close to modern horror epic we are likely to get. Enter with caution.