Hereditary is, thus far in 2018, the best movie of the year. I know it’s early and there are still Oscar bait movies to come, one or two of which will live up to their hype, but Hereditary is very likely to remain my favorite film of the year. I have been a professional film critic for over a decade now and a writer of internet reviews for more than 20 years, and in that time I have seen hundreds of horror movies and become jaded. Hereditary gave me legit chills for the first time since I was a naive kid not hip to the tricks of movie makers.
Hereditary stars Toni Collette as Annie, an artist, wife and mother of two. Annie’s mother has just passed away and we watch at the funeral as Annie struggles to find genuine grief for her passing. Mother and daughter had a fraught relationship, as evidenced by Annie’s discernible forced grief and that will be a big part of how the story of Hereditary plays out. While Annie is seeking an understanding of grief, life goes on for her family.
Annie’s husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) is loving and supportive of his wife but can’t understand her complex reaction to her mother’s death. Son, Peter (Alex Wolff) is a typically self-centered teen and thus not expected to reckon with his mother’s emotions. And then there is Annie’s daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro). Charlie appears to be autistic though whether that plays into why she appears to lack empathy for anyone or anything is not for me to say.
Charlie is not psychotic or dangerous, although one day she could be, but her obsession with death, expressed only briefly in words but mostly in Milly Shapiro’s remarkably expressive face, is palpably disturbing. Charlie is a breathtaking character. Director Ari Aster gives her an almost supernatural presence and yet her parents and sibling think nothing of her other than caring about her like you would a family member. It’s only us who get a sense that something is deeply wrong with Charlie and it’s nothing to do with her being of special needs.
A tragedy plays out once more in this family and that is the catalyst for the scares to come. I will not spoil it here, I will only say that the moment is stunning and left me breathless at the daring and horror of the moment. It is among the boldest moments I have ever seen on film, a scene so shocking that it doesn’t land right away, it punches you in the gut and then holds that punch their, holding you in the grip of breath, before letting you catch yourself before the next blow lands.
Ari Aster is a revelatory director, a new and exciting auteurist voice. Hereditary feels like the singular vision of a true visionary with production design detail that only the truly great directors achieve. Watch the way he uses props and furniture in Hereditary. Everything is just so slightly out of scale. There is a slightly too large guitar in one scene, a hallway table that is just slightly oversized. These little touches are intentional and they intend to skewer your perception and keep you off-kilter without having to resort to many camera tricks or showy narrative devices.
Toni Collette’s Annie is an artist and she works in miniatures, tiny dioramas of her memories and her everyday life. Annie’s art is the cornerstone of the film’s design and as you watch it evolve and you watch Annie slowly unraveling, the models provide a strange and terrifying insight into Annie’s fraying mental state. Watch the opening scene of Hereditary closely and the remarkable subtlety at play in how the action begins.
Toni Collette and Alex Wolff are the standouts of a remarkable cast. Collette’s slow descent into maddening grief is truly terrifying and you will not be able to take your eyes off of here. It’s a gripping and desperate, almost feral at times, performance. Collette is a brave and daring performer and thus the perfect fit for this brave and daring narrative. Alex Wolff on the other hand, is effortlessly brilliant at earning our sympathy. Despite beginning the movie as a self-centered teen, constantly on the verge of being a jerk, Wolff and director Ari Aster find ways to deepen and explore Peter.
I adore every inch of Hereditary. It’s a film of incredible detail and that elusive quality of being legitimately frightening. No joke, Hereditary gets into your head and if you’re not into horror movies, you don’t want this movie in your head. Hereditary is shocking, bold, scary and wildly entertaining. It’s filled with remarkable performances, including at least two, possibly three potential Academy Award nominees.
See Hereditary now on Blu-Ray and DVD