Monday, June 25, 2018

Hereditary (2018)

Hereditary has its obvious forebears in Rosemary's Baby, Don't Look Now, and, more recently, The Babadook, that is, in "quiet" horror (not looking in your direction, A Quiet Place) based on minimal violence, only gnawing anxiety or other psychology, which may or may not be producing delusions. Journeyman player Toni Colette (Muriel's Wedding, The Sixth Sense, Lucky Them) is called on to perform herculean feats of carrying the story as it wends from an intriguing family dysfunction piece and into more of the eternal chthonic realms, and she pretty much delivers. This is accomplished by using a typical support group as a device for her to give soliloquies and provide backstory, by some really impressive scenes of grief, and by probably too many close-ups of the anguish plastered all over her open-mouthed face. Once Hereditary is fully engaged, after a shocking and impeccably done set piece early, the movie it started to remind me of most was The Amityville Horror. It might have been the insect vermin, but they are both similarly hit and miss projects—very strong when they find ways to wreck your peace, very silly at other times, and the line between is close. Director and writer Ari Aster is on his first feature, with a carefully constructed screenplay that artfully leads to climaxes of specific shock images and vertiginous moments of clarity, spelling out the situation as it advances and unfolds. Annie (Colette) is an artist who specializes in miniaturized room and dollhouse pieces. She is on a deadline for an important gallery show. As the movie begins, her mother has died. Though Annie and her mother were estranged, the family seems like a comfortable and healthy middle-of-the-road liberal educated clan. There are definitely class notes here that add to the unease. The youngest child, her daughter Charlie, has obvious problems of an adolescent 13-year-old, perhaps a bit worse than normal. She's overweight, eats sweets compulsively, and keeps to herself as much as she can, drawing and daydreaming. But we also see things she does to animal corpses that are disturbing. Then the family is altered forever by a horrific accident. Colette delivers powerful scenes of grief here and the movie looks like it might be about the dread and anxieties of families under grief. But along about here a piece of narrative appears to go missing, as we are shown only the vaguest images of the aftermath of the accident, and what we most want to see is deliberately withheld as long as possible. Effective for suspense, yadda yadda, but a lot of important things about family connections are unfortunately left unexplained. Hereditary is entertaining all the way, and still hitting high points late too, but it's more on the order of hustling around trying to make narrative pieces jigger together while still finding its way to those images and moments that work on you, now and later. Recommended with low expectations.


  1. Falls into the category of "not as good as expected" for me, which means I was being a bit unfair ... the expectations aren't raised by Aster but by the film's supporters. I liked it, if not nearly as much as I liked The Babadook. I must admit, though, I never thought of Toni Collette as a journeyman ... she carried United States of Tara, although in retrospect, that show will probably be remembered for introducing us to Brie Larson.

  2. I just saw Colette in Lucky Them, where she's an aging rock critic. As rock critic movies go it's not bad.

  3. "As rock critic movies go," though, is a very low bar, right? Almost Famous, High Fidelity...I'm blanking?