Friday 8 June 2018

Film Review: Hereditary

A24 hits another horror home run in Hereditary, an unsettling suburban thriller than transforms into a cyclone of stressful supernatural shit.

When Annie's (Toni Collette) mother passes away, the Graham family begins to discover a string of increasingly strange secrets surrounding her past and their future. Thirteen-year-old Charlie (Milly Shapiro), who shared an especially close connection with her recently deceased grandmother, in particular is affected by the loss, and mysteries regarding her ancestry start to reveal unspeakable horrors in the present.

The directorial and writing debut of filmmaker Ari Aster, Hereditary arrives at a time when the horror genre is enjoying something of a purple patch; a string of high-profile independent horror films have instilled fear in audiences over the last few years, from Australia's The Babadook to the Academy Award-winning Get Out and the barnstorming success of 2017's remake of It. Hereditary, however, almost certainly has all of these beat in terms of sheer unbridled terror – I warn you now, this film will haunt your dreams, maaaaaan.

Few films are as adept at crafting unease and terror as Aster's Hereditary, which burrows under your skin within seconds and continues to wriggle and worm for the entire 127-minute runtime. The film shares its fair share of DNA and connective tissue with another A24 directorial debut in Robert Eggers' The Witch, from the sickening unease that makes your stomach churn to the sharp swerves that see the narrative turn this way and that to keep the viewer guessing.

If you think you know where this is heading having seen the trailer, guess again. Like any good horror film, Hereditary warrants repeat viewings – it oh so subtly teases the answers before revealing itself like a grotesque boogeyman that has been lurking beneath the bed the whole time. Aster directs the nightmarish narrative with aplomb, from lingering shots of strange stick figures assembled by Charlie to the frenetic third act that unleashes all manner of splatter and shocks.

Pawel Pogorzelski's cinematography – which at times casts unspeakable horror in broad daylight while at others forces the audience to scan the darkness for the terror lurking within the frame – is perfectly complemented by Colin Stetson's frightful strings, which set the mood early on and wring the audience (and their nerves) for all they're worth.

That said, the ace in the hole here is undoubtedly Toni Collette. There simply aren't superlatives strong enough to describe Collette's staggering performance in Hereditary; simultaneously frail, afraid and rabid, she bares a raw emotional honesty that carves right down to the bone. When she speaks of the fraught relationship with her mother, we feel that simmering pain and resentment. When something unexpected happens soon after, we share in her shock and anguish. To say that Hereditary isn't easy to watch would be an understatement, and a lot of that stems from the incredible performances delivered by its cast, with Collette leading the charge.

Things get very, very dark in Hereditary, with Aster's screenplay seemingly unafraid to plumb the depths of human despair in search of causing desolation and distress. The film's examination of grief, isolation, regret, family, responsibility and ancestry is potent to say the least, with some of its more resonant musings ringing in your ears on the long drive home from the theatre.

Potentially the best film that I have no inclination of watching again, Hereditary aims to fuck you up and excels across the board. A thick fog of discomfort lingers over every frame of this suffocating horror, one which continually throws surprise after surprise at the audience and leaves you guessing until the very last. See it, but maybe sleep with the light on that night. Just saying.

The Verdict: 8.5/10

Like a bubbling cauldron of feral festering ingredients, Hereditary starts off with an ominous simmer before building into a boiling vat of swirling, stomach-churning horror. Collette delivers what could be a career-best performance and A24's penchant for slow, skin-crawling nightmare fuel continues. I'll never look at a doormat the same way ever again.

Hereditary is in cinemas across Australia now.

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