Hereditary (2018) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Hereditary (2018)

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The Grahams know no peace. After Annie's mother dies, she fills the vacuum of conflict and emotional pain by sniping at her husband Steve, son Peter, and daughter Charlie.  As Annie's wounds fester in the handcrafted details of her miniature art she begins the cycle of trauma once more for the next generation.  Ari Aster wrote the screenplay for and directs Hereditary, which stars Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Gabriel Byrne, and Ann Dowd.

Toni Collette, and - to a lesser extent - Gabriel Byrne, sensed a tremendous horror film inside Hereditary.  Both function as stars and Executive Producers working in front of and behind the camera of writer / director Ari Aster's debut film.  That's a mighty twosome, and when Hereditary centers specifically on Annie (Collette) it conjures an unpredictable edge that rivals similar traumatized home horror film The Babadook.

The rest of Hereditary could use some of the unpredictable energy Collette brings to her role.  It's rigorously composed with the steady sway of the camera attempting to lure the audience hypnotically into the Graham family's tense and empty home.  Hereditary always looks excellent, but the aesthetic served to keep me at a distance from the open nerve of trauma.  Right up until the end, the traumatized Grahams function mostly as gruesome puppets in a sterile home with the artifice of the former unfortunately highlighted by the cautious framing in the latter with the threads of horror's past wafting into view.But when Collette is left on her own to wrestle against Annie's demons the too large home feels ill-equipped to handle the weight of her torment.  Her wail is a fearsome thing, and Aster is wise to give Collette space at Annie's lowest as her pain transcends time when her screams bounce against the walls then into open air.  Even before further tragedy hits the Graham family Collette does such an effective job keeping the other performers on edge that I was dreading the moment one of them would push her too far.  As Annie's reaches her emotional limits Aster's script hits its most powerful notes.

Most of the dialogue in Hereditary consists of passive-aggressive sniping between the family members.  They don't speak in tart wit or wasp-y affectation.  Each one knows the hurt they can inflict on the next with Annie's children, the morbid Charlie (Milly Shapiro) and haunted Peter (Alex Wolff), taking the vast share of their mother's pain.  Aster's scenario has each talking as though the specter of emotional trauma is sitting in plain sight while everyone is too scared to comment on it while too restless to let it be still. Shapiro is astonishingly good at balancing her performance between those two worlds, looking with wet eyes out at the ghosts her mother refuses to see and loosing each syllable to the air as a desperate gasp to be heard. Along with Millicent Simmonds of A Quiet Place and Sophia Lillis of It, Shaprio uses horror to make good on her clearly tremendous potential.

Then there's the matter of Peter and where Hereditary starts to lose its effectiveness.  Wolff, to his credit, has the physical chops to make the psychic scars manifest in panicked and sometimes grotesque contortions of his body.  Vocally he strays between soul crushing weight and cartoonish hysterics.  The problem is, so does the plot and feel of Hereditary.  Once the emotional demon is let loose Aster's tone suffers from a bit of an identity crisis, not quite settling on some of its campier elements nor the careful buildup in Hereditary's first forty or so minutes.Ann Dowd, no stranger to metaphysically murky stories weighed down by trauma, arrives as a one-note ray of sunshine that is an odd fit for this world and the point where Hereditary starts to lose its power. She's the clearest link to Hereditary's roots in Rosemary's Baby-esque domestic horror without the payoff - and when there is a payoff it's a mannequin of grotesque parts that owe a nod to Lucky McKee's 2002 film May.  Aster strides forward so confidently up through to her arrival that the disparate hodgepodge of homages to other horror films comes as a big disappointment.  He shows a great grasp of the physical and mental strain of trauma then largely abandons that focus to chase different tonal threads.

Hereditary never quite pulls itself back together.  I continued to marvel at Collette's performance which exists in its own tortured sphere away from Byrne, Wolff, and Shapiro.  Byrne - to his credit - nails his unique brand of credulous skepticism and musters enough mystery around Steve's loyalties that his final scenes are as quietly unpredictable as Annie's are volatile.  But all that meticulous buildup whiffs in the end, leaving Hereditary with shocking moments that curdle the mind and little else to speak or.

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Hereditary (2018)

Screenplay written and directed by Ari Aster.
Starring Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Gabriel Byrne, and Ann Dowd.

Posted by Andrew

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