Hereditary opens with a family preparing for a funeral. Annie’s mother has died. Much like Annie, the film feels…distant from this event. we learn that she was, in fact often struggling in their relationship. And death has not changed that.
But things start to escalate as more tragedy hits and both Annie and her family seem to be coming apart at the seams.
Heredity is a horror movie that is very slow and deliberate. Other than a few “is there a ghost” style moments (odd reflections, flashing lights) it really feels like Hereditary is the exploration of a family that is being torn apart by a family history of unacknowledged mental illness.
Of course, the story is more than that. There is something darker lurking under the surface. Ari Aster (in his feature length debut as both a writer and director) moves the film at a very (deliberate) slow pace. He rarely relies on jarring us with a gruesome visual or jump scares (but there are a few). But it works so well. Hereditary is at times painful not through gore or shocking violence…but through it’s moments of emotional despair.
There is a scene at the dinner table that is both horrifying and heart wrenching. And a lot of the emotional weight of the film comes from incredibly strong performances. Gabriel Byrne’s role as a father trying to keep his family imploding is wonderfully understated. He manages to remain sympathetic, even when he seems to be unable to support his belief in his wife’s lost grip on reality. Mary Shapiro is memorable as the young daughter (who was closest to Annie’s mother) who seems to be on the autism spectrum.
Toni Collette and Alex Wolff turn in terrific performances. Collette’s Annie seems to distance herself from her family and the audience. But at at the same time, you get it. Her grief pours from the screen and washes over the audience. And Wolff’s Peter is heart breaking to watch as he and his relationship with his mother seems to disintegrate before their eyes.
The horror of Hereditary is “can you trust the people who should care for you the most”? I mentioned that the film moves at a rather slow pace. And this really benefits the film. Pay attention. Listen in. Every little hint means something and rewards in the end.