Movie review: Hereditary (2018)


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Cast

    • Toni Collette as Annie Graham
    • Gabriel Byrne as Steve Graham
  • Alex Wolff as Peter Graham
  • Milly Shapiro as Charlie Graham
  • Ann Dowd as Joan
  • Directed by Ari Aster

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The Grahams put a loved one to rest…maybe….

Spoiler free

When Annie Graham’s mother dies, you get the sense she won’t be much-missed. It appears that matriarch controlled a vast amount of the family’s daily life, and Annie seems to be building tiny miniatures as a sort of coping mechanism to regain some control (and also to sell as important art pieces). Now that Annie’s mother is dead, her remaining family badly want to reconnect with Annie herself. But is grandma really gone? Her powerful influence still hangs throughout the house, as malevolent as the spirit of the Overlook Hotel, and as sinister – yet humdrum – as the Satanists in Rosemary’s Baby. Just like the Shining, Hereditary operates within a world of almost dreamlike logic and unsettlingly long takes, forcing you to examine every frame for…something that’s not right. Because a deeply sinister threat looms over the household, and the hapless Graham family is soon enveloped by a complete nightmare.

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The overused but undoubtedly horrific image of Toni Collette screaming (even made it onto the official Twitter hashtag).

Hereditary wrings great tension just from the crushing pressure of domestic conformity, of things best left unsaid, keeping the peace within claustrophobic walls. It creates a harrowing family drama that just so happens to involve even darker occult secrets. Secrets so dark that even shrinking them down to dollhouse size won’t make them manageable. The characters simply don’t get the luxury of this heightened perspective until it’s far too late. Annie starts to crack under the pressure of horrible dreams and a painful reality, which chops away at everyone’s sanity, though their father desperately tries to keep it all together. Is the family going mad with grief, or is there really a supernatural threat coming for them all?

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Peter Graham (ALex Wolff) and his unsettling reflection…

Whatever you were expecting, it might just surprise you, despite the huge amounts of publicity that preceded its theatrical release. It’s worth having patience with its slow steady burn, and it looks terrific. The model miniatures are put to amazing use, disorienting and condensing each new horror, so that even the tiny doll version of the deceased grandmother become huge with dread. For the record, this isn’t a typical haunted house story, but it does suggest no one is quite free of the dead either. There are also slightly ridiculous moments, though those absurdities somewhat offsets the constant pressure of anxiety. Even Polanski seemed to understand the ridiculousness of Satanism, with the often funny, but always dangerous, Devil-worshipping neighbours in Rosemary’s Baby.

So let’s try to forget the enormous weight of the hype heaped upon this poor movie. It’s silly to apply such expectations anyway. There’s no way even a film as good as this could exceed them, and calling this ‘better than the Exorcist’ (yeah join the queue) is never going to endear you to fans of that movie (sorry Mark Kermode). Better to judge it, then, on its own considerable merits. This is a brilliantly creepy film, and the miniatures give each scene an unsettling afterburn, where you’re never totally sure what reality you just saw. Events bleed eloquently from one setting to the next, propelling characters into an ever-deeper nightmare world.

Hereditary neatly weaves the guts of Rosemary’s Baby (with its Cultish backdrop) and The Shining (in gliding, ominous mood) together like a gruesome corn doll. I truly hope viewers will keep an open mind about the film, as it has divided reviewers and filmgoers. It is slower than a lot of modern horror films, but if you approach it with an ‘anything can happen’ perspective, and try to let it all in, I think you’ll have an intense and terrifying experience.

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No, it’s not upside-down by accident or anything, this is in the film!

Spoilers ahead

A short note. In a reveal worthy of Lovecraft’s sublime ‘The Thing on the Doorstep’, we learn that their deceased grandmother has been part of a cult determined to raise a powerful demon named Paimon into the body of the next Graham family heir. He prefers a male, though at first poor little Charlie is having to do. Until she’s gruesomely destroyed as part of the ritual, a truly chilling scene. Body stealing is a particularly wicked trope, the ultimate personal violation, and we follow the hapless Peter as he drowns in fear and is a victim of the malice of others. Poor guy never stood a chance. We can assume that he suffered so much in this film precisely to make him a better host, more vulnerable and open to possession. A film that lingers, then. Uneasy and odd, though the final moment is oddly benign…despite the severed heads and naked old people (also a Polanski trait…). Yeah. It’s good. Weird, and good, and we want more of this!

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Creepy little Charlie taking in the view

The good

  • Creeping sense of oppressive dread. Reminds me heavily of the Shining, Rosemary’s Baby, and the Witch, among others.
  • Amazing performance from Toni Collette, the rest aren’t so bad either.
  • Those miniature models are exquisite. The scene where Annie breaks them all is wrenching!
  • The standout moment for me is where the son is in bed and…there’s something in the corner above him that you simply don’t register. Until you do. Eeep.
  • Though let’s not ignore the horrific bit when Annie is banging her head on the underside of the trapdoor. ARRRGH.

The Bad

  • Will not please viewers only there for jumpscares and constant gore. Sorry guys, not this time…
  • Very slow pace.
  • The switch from domestic drama to actual horror tropes might annoy others too.
  • Slightly narmy at times, specifically the scenes where possessed Annie float/swims away behind her son, and also her headless body floating into the treehouse, are ridiculous but also kind of work for the film’s dream logic and suffocation.

 

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