Critics praise A24 for their award-winning hits like Moonlight and Lady Bird, but their standouts to me are their horror films. Hereditary is A24’s latest art house horror film; it might also be the best they’ve made yet.
Annie Graham (Toni Collette) has lost her abusive, mentally ill mother. As she copes with the loss, Annie’s demons resurface, as do her mother’s haunting secrets. Things only get worse when Annie’s husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) questions Annie’s sanity, her daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) performs ritualistic behavior with dead animals, and her son Peter (Alex Wolff) has violent hallucinations. Saying this family is dysfunctional is an understatement.
Hereditary is more a tragic melodrama than supernatural horror film, but don’t dismiss the horror! Writer/director Ari Aster doesn’t rely on false jump scares or an abundance of gore. Aster infuses real-life tragedy with supernatural mythologies and he doesn’t hold back. Decapitations and combustion haven’t been this horrific in quite some time.
Annie is a miniature artist who designs works based on her own tragic life. The works are expressionistic and nightmarish alone, but almost reflective of Aster’s directing. From the opening long take in Annie’s work shop set to Colin Stetson’s daunting score, we know we’re in for an unsettling ride. The film’s production design, cinematography, and editing are reminiscent of gothic horror films and Annie’s art works, leaving a surreal impression.
Collette gives an incredible performance as Annie and pulls no punches. Annie is a broken introvert who’s wrapped in her art. Collette shows versatility and anguish in her performance. Whether it’s a rage-fueled tangent at the dinner table or a series of awkward monologues about her horrible upbringing, Collette feels genuine as the tortured protagonist.
I have to admire Aster’s treatment of exposition. I normally dislike telling versus showing, but Aster adds some haunting ambiguity to Annie’s exposition-fueled monologues. Without going into spoilers, there are certain details in Annie’s backstory that sound tragic. When the revelations in the final act occur, a rewatch is necessary to determine what contributed to Annie’s said tragedies.
Hereditary shifts into full horror mode in the final thirty minutes. Aster packs it with frightening imagery in the corners and shadows, sound effects that get under your skin, and a wickedly scary inheritance. Like Annihilation earlier this year and April’s A Quiet Place, Hereditary is a harrowing genre film with more on its mind than genre conventions.