“Hereditary”

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 PlaceHereditary is a harrowing genre film with more on its mind than genre conventions.

Grade: A+

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“The Witch”

“The Witch” is a slow burn melodrama, but a damn scary one! I applaud writer/director Robert Eggers for creating such a tense and atmospheric period piece.

“The Witch” takes place in the 1600’s and follows a deeply religious New England family, who moves from their plantation to an isolated forest to grow crops. Like most horror films, the family finds themselves cursed *after* moving. They soon believe they’re cursed by God when their crops die, their baby goes missing, and several horrific atrocities occur.

“The Witch” is one of the most mesmerizing and effective supernatural horror films I’ve ever seen. Eggers’ directorial debut is a love letter to witchcraft stories and a heartbreaking depiction of one very dysfunctional family.

We have our innocent protagonist Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), her religiously and sexually confused brother Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), creepy twin siblings, her noble-but-dimwitted father William (Ralph Ineson), and her increasingly psychotic mother Katherine (Kate Dickie). Their environment turns them against one another, as do their opposing views of God.

SOME SPOILERS AHEAD! SHIMMY IF YOU DON’T WANT SPOILERS!

The witches are unseen for a majority of the time, but they instigate the family’s descent into madness and watch them fall apart. That’s what makes witches terrifying – their mind games. We also see animals in bizarre scenarios, including a stalker brown rabbit, a black goat that has a violent meltdown, and one disturbing sequence involving a crow.

Eggers directs the actors’ emotions masterfully with tight handheld close-ups, capturing their discomfort and heartbreak. His script’s dialogue is authentic Puritan dialogue that will force you to pay attention to the screen. His ambiguous writing is handled confidently. His buildup to the dark finale will leave you shaken. “The Witch” is a great horror film and not for the faint of heart.

Grade: A+