By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

Writer/director Ari Aster has made one hell of a devilish feature film debut with this horror near-masterpiece.  I know some critics have already hailed the movie as a bona fide masterwork, but I feel that the new director shows some moderate weakness in how he handles the conclusion.  Still, I was quite impressed with the filmmaker as both a writer and director, as he shows great skill as both a visual artist and a storyteller. Hereditary might not be a genuine masterpiece in my opinion, but it sure is a genuinely frightening and haunting serving of horror cinema.

Toni Collette stars as wife, mother, and artist Annie Graham.  Though life hasn’t always been wine and roses, she and her husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) live peacefully and comfortably in their home in the woods.  The family, which includes elder son Peter (Alex Wolff) and younger daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro), might have their share of problems, but they are about to go through the most trying and traumatic experience of their lives.  At the beginning of the story, Annie loses her mother after succumbing to a terrible illness.

Though Annie and her mother were never really close, she begins to feel haunted by memories of their relationship and the troubled history of her family.  She begins to question reality and imagination as she starts seeing ghostly images of her mother at home in addition to a relapse with a sleep walking problem. When another tragedy hits the family even harder, Annie begins to feel her sanity slipping and her relationship with her family deteriorating. Things get even crazier as Annie’s family begin to fear her and as Annie uncovers even more secrets from her mother’s past.

Without giving any more away, I must warn my audiences to prepare to be frightened, disturbed and completely unsettled by Ari Aster’s Hereditary.  Aster and his crew have done an excellent job of creating a genuinely creepy setting and setting a dark and completely foreboding mood for their movie.  High praise must be given to cinematographer Pawel Porgozelski, editors Lucian Johnston, Jennifer Lame, and composer Colin Stetson for bringing this film to vivid life.  Aster builds his story well with a perfectly paced and nuanced beginning and superbly creates suspense and tension.

The audience knows things are going to get worse for the family, but Aster and his team keep them on edge so much that it almost becomes unbearable.  And when the shocks and surprises come, they flourish absolutely beautifully.  However, Aster saves some of his more delightfully ghoulish material for the climax. It is at the very end that I feel that Aster’s writing and direction gets a bit heavy-handed and stalls the film a bit.  Everything leading up to this moment, however, will be talked about, studied and praised for generations to come.

Aster’s amazing cast is the final piece of the puzzle which helps make the film so damn effective.  Gabriel Byrne brings a calm and reserved torment to the character of patriarch Steve Graham.  His subtle and restrained performance is repression and pain personified as a man who wants to maintain a calm staus quo within a family haunted by demons (whether real or psychological). Alex Wolff brings a similar take to teenage son Peter, but also brings with these qualities a realistic touch of rebelliousness and a palpable desire to be free of his family’s problems.  Milly Shapiro also gives an astute and sublime turn as the quirky and socially awkward daughter Charlie.  It is Toni Collette, however, who deserves the most praise, and possibly future accolades for her phenomenal performance as the haunted and disturbed mother Annie.

Toni Collette’s work on this film is absolutely amazing, breathtaking, and heartbreaking on so many levels.  Aster’s development of his protagonist lays an excellent foundation for Collette who takes this groundwork and makes it feel genuine with true emotion and hearty passion.  I sincerely hope she does not get overlooked come awards season, In addition to the fantastic filmmaking, Collette is another reason people will be talking about this movie.

And as much as people are already discussing this film, I must warn my readers to avoid all possible spoilers at all costs.  This a film that only works well with all of the surprises, shocks, and frights unspoiled.  The best way to avoid these spoilers is to go see this film as soon as possible.  I must strongly  encourage fans of superbly executed horror to see it at once.  Ari Aster proves himself as a real deal talent in horror cinema.  With his freshman movie, Ari Aster is declaring, “Welcome to my nightmare and I think you’re going to like it.”


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