Opening tonight at a dark, scary multiplex near us all:
HEREDITARY (Dir. Ari Aster, 2018)
The teenager, Peter (Alex Wolff), is a member of a classic nuclear family made up of his parents Annie and Steve Graham (Toni Collette and Gabriel Byrne), and his sister, Charlie (Milly Shapiro) who live in a nice house somewhere in the woods of Utah (at least that’s where it was shot). We meet the Grahams on the morning of the funeral for Annie’s mother, and the feeling of grief is palpable in the film’s tense tone.
Later, Annie, who’s profession is as a maker of the miniatures used in the opening, sees an apparition of her mother in her workshop, the first such instance of the supernatural which makes her research the subject and suspect that her mother kept some creepy stuff secret from her.
Annie keeps her own secret from her family about going to support group meetings in which we learn of her father’s grim death. Meanwhile, her son, the pot smoking Peter, schemes to go to a party in hopes of scoring a date with a classmate (Mallory Bechtel),but is forced to take his 13-year old sister along.
While Charlie is unattended to, she eats some cake that has nuts in it (we were told earlier about her allergies) and starts to go into anaphylactic shock *. Peter frantically drives to get Charlie to the hospital, but she gets killed in a grisly accident in which she gets decapitated.
What’s really f-ed up is that Annie makes a miniature diorama of the accident scene, complete with a doll’s bloody head in the road in back of a toy car, and, for obvious reasons, this freaks out her husband Steve played by Byrne, who superbly relays exasperation and concern for his loved ones.
Peter begins seeing apparitions of Charlie, while Annie meets a woman at a meeting (Ann Dowd – Aunt Lydia from The Handmaid’s Tale!) who holds séances to communicate with the dead, and we witness drawings being made by ghosts, the mother and son going into violent trances, and feel the undercurrent of a conspiracy decorated with satanic imagery.
HEREDITARY is top notch horror, but it’s through its strong depiction of strained family drama that makes it the powerful experience it is. Collette, no stranger to creepy kids and ghosts since her breakthrough performance 20 years ago in THE SIXTH SENSE, acts her ass off here. She’s enthrallingly committed to her role in every moment, which made me simultaneously scared for her and scared of her throughout.
Filmmaker Aster has named such vintage horror flicks as THE INNOCENTS, ROSEMARY’S BABY, THE EXORCIST, and THE SHINING as inspirations, but the film feels more in line with such recent psychologically disturbing works as THE WITCH, KILLING OF A SACRED DEER, and IT COMES AT NIGHT (all titles from this film’s studio, A24).
With a debut that’s as dark and twisted as it is brilliantly inspired, Aster’s career as a new master of the macabre is off to an extremely scary start.
* Before the screening I went to at the newly opened Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Raleigh, a rep did an intro and said that during the movie they will pass out pieces of cake – “if anyone has nut allergies don’t eat it” she warned. How’s that for synergy?