|Toni Collette as Annie Graham|
|Gabriel Byrne as Steve Graham|
Naturally, this masochistic desire to have the bejesus scared out of me extended to movies, too, but by the time big-screen psychological thrillers replaced the atomic monsters and vampires of Saturday afternoon TV, I'd developed a better understanding of what I was after: the emotional jolt of the safe, vicarious scare. The payoff was that my naturally jittery nature meant that I got more bang for my buck.
I came to enjoy the sensation of sitting in the dark and surrendering myself to whatever reality these films presented; the deeper I immersed myself, the more thrilling the ride. But with the waning of the 1960s, the make-believe horrors of movies like Wait Until Dark (“What did they want with her? What did they want with her?” screamed the film's poster ad copy to my abject terror) and Rosemary’s Baby (“What have you done to its eyes?”) couldn't keep pace with the real-life terrors served up every night on the TV news. Fiction proved no match for the horrific reality of the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy; the unsolved mystery of the Zodiac Killer; or the nightmare of the Manson Family. So when feeling frightened became a way of life instead of an escapist outlet, I knew it was time to give horror movies a rest.
|Alex Wolff as Peter Graham|
|Milly Shapiro as Charlie Graham|
The more market-friendly horror movies became, the more they needed to resemble product. Goodbye, to the unexpected, and hello to by-the-numbers horror plotting and slasher villains armed with quotable quips and taglines.
|The Graham Home|
As haunting a presence in Hereditary as The Overlook Hotel in The Shining
Which is a shame, because now that I'm no longer the easily-scared kid I used to be, finding a horror movie that gets me to believe in the unbelievable is hard enough; finding one that's actually frightening is becoming a near-impossibility. Gore, jump-edits, loud noises, and a heavy metal song played over the closing credits does not a horror film make (which should come as news to Elie Roth and Rob Zombie). For a movie to really scare me, it at least has to come from a place that is emotionally honest. Hopefully, while tapping into some elemental, suppressed anxiety rooted in human vulnerability and the fear of mortality.
|Ann Dowd as Joan|
|The Dollhouse Effect|
Hereditary manipulates the viewer's sense of perception. Many scenes begin with our being
uncertain whether we're witnessing real life or merely looking at one of Annie's miniatures.
In fact, I’m not even sure it's possible to be disappointed by Hereditary, for it's a film that has, as its primary defining characteristic, a dogged refusal to deliver anything remotely resembling the expected.
|Portrait in Black|
The death of a family matriarch is the catalyst event sparking an interlinked eruption of remorse, reflection, and revelation that ultimately sends an already loosely-tethered family spiraling horrifically out of control. Annie (Toni Collette), whose mother died in hospice after a long, grasping illness, is an artist whose method of coping with her traumatic childhood is to recreate the most painful events in breathtakingly disturbing miniature dioramas. And with a history involving a mother who suffered from dissociative identity disorder; a clinically depressed father who starved himself to death; and an older brother with committed suicide when she was just a teenager, Annie is not exactly at a loss for traumas to draw upon for her work.
|Charlie and the Chocolate Factory|
Afflicted with a lethal allergy to nuts, Charlie's sweet tooth and love of chocolate
turns every member of the family into around-the-clock sentinels
|Contents Under Pressure|
|Don't Be Afraid|
WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
Hereditary brought a lot of those feelings back for me. Everything about the film caught me off guard. So much so that watching it became a little unnerving for me. It brought back that long-forgotten sense of feeling on edge long after a film ended, my mind carrying around a vague apprehension that resulted in an over-awareness of noises and a wariness of shadows.
|"You never even cried as a baby- you know that? Not even when you were born."|
A movie like Hereditary makes suspension of disbelief terribly easy, for in addition to being skilled at keeping the viewer off-balance, it's a story told on its own terms, in its own unique voice, and benefits from a distinct, fully-realized world view. And in a horror film landscape increasingly dominated by the box office-friendly predictability of franchises, a movie as audaciously bizarre and off-the-rails as Hereditary feels like a revitalization of the genre.
|The visual motif of low ceilings, narrow corridors, and confined spaces reinforce themes of emotional confinement and the notion that the Grahams (by heredity) are manipulated like dolls in a dollhouse by fate.|
With each frame crammed to overflowing with information, clues, and foreshadowing, Hereditary is a film that practically demands a second viewing. If only to discover all the pieces of the puzzle that had been laid out, hidden in plain sight, from the first go-round.
It's accepted that horror films, like comedies, rarely get any respect come awards season. For every Sissy Spacek Best Actress nomination for Carrie (1976) or Ellen Burstyn for The Exorcist (1973), there are far too many Mia Farrow (Rosemary's Baby - 1968) - Deborah Kerr (The Innocents - 1961) snubs.
Toni Collette, all exposed nerve-endings and bottled-up tensions, gives the performance of her career in Hereditary. But, unfortunately, she's so inarguably brilliant, her being passed over for an Oscar nomination feels more like a voter response to what can charitably be called a "difficult" film than an oversight regarding one of the most compelling screen performances of the year.
Ordinary People (1980) have I seen such a movingly recognizable depiction of adolescent grief. There's an unforgettable moment in Hereditary where Wolff, at a point in the story when family relationships are at a peak deterioration point, is standing silently by his bike outside the front door, trying to muster up the courage to simply enter the house. It's a heart-wrenching example of how Ari Aster somehow makes the small moments pay off as powerfully as the large scale.
|In the equally-bereaved Joan, Annie finds someone outside the home to whom she can confide.|
Or has she?
Horror films are hollow films if they don't feature characters with whom you can identify or situations whose outcomes you can become invested in. Hereditary goes to places that even fans of the genre find disturbing, but the darkness feels at one with the world Aster has created.
I don't know what kind of mind could come up with a movie like Hereditary, let alone the genius capable of pulling it off so tremendously. But my hat is off to Ari Aster for taking so many chances, and in the process, reminding me what a thrill it is to be scared at the movies again.
Nothing's more terrifying than a horror film that takes death, loss, and grief seriously.
Hereditary father and son Gabriel Byrne and Alex Wolff played father and son in the HBO series In Treatment from 2008 to 2010.
|Psychologist Paul Weston and his son Max|
|Modern Family / Ordinary People |
The original cut of Hereditary ran 60 minutes longer than the theatrical release.
The original shooting script is available to read HERE.
Copyright © Ken Anderson 2009 - 20019