Hereditary makes most recent horror movies look like soap operasby James Robins
Sixth Sense star Toni Collette is having more terrifying trouble with spooky kids in Hereditary.
Masterworks of the genre balance these qualities, portraying terror and gore as manifestations of an individual, internal trauma: grief for a lost child in Don’t Look Now; a widow’s bereavement in The Babadook; purgatory and sin in The Exorcist; suburban paranoia in Halloween.
The worst, on the other hand, succumb to quackery and mysticism. Seances, Ouija boards, poltergeists, and myths, without the necessary emotional pull. And we’ve had more than our share of that recently.
Hereditary, from writer/director Ari Aster, understands this intricate balance and exploits it to extremely disturbing ends. This is his first film, and it is astounding – a thumbscrew twisting ever tighter. Even from the first frames, it grabs at your breath with slow disquieting zooms, pushing you into a home drenched in dread.
At its tumultuous core is a distressingly unhinged performance from Toni Collette, who plays Annie, a mother frayed and sundered by one loss, and then another. Early on, she lets loose a guttural screech of anguish so piercing that its echo pervades and blackens the rest of the story.
And as that story treks deeper into despair, blame is traded and patterns uncovered, consuming Annie’s entire family: teenage stoner Peter (Alex Wolff), stolid father Steve (Gabriel Byrne) and insular tomboy Charlie (Milly Shapiro).
But what precisely is consuming them? I fear that Hereditary may not take its place alongside other genre greats because it leans too heavily on occult distractions.
An apparition or a haunting can be the desperate reaction of a troubled mind, or it can remain altogether unexplained. As with the first time Annie sees a ghostly presence, it is not the ghost itself that scares, but the whimpered “Mommy?” that follows.
Nevertheless, Hereditary is expertly made, and makes most recent horror franchises look like soap operas.
IN CINEMAS NOW
This article was first published in the June 23, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.
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