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Hereditary (dir. Aster)

Image: A family mourns in Hereditary. [Source: IMDB]

★★★★★

From the acclaimed studio A24 and a first-time feature for director Ari Aster, comes a story of loss, family and inheritance. After the passing of the family matriarch, the mourning family begin to be plagued by strange occurrences and behaviours. Unravelling dark secrets and hidden agendas the family enters into a living hell to which they are trapped.

Director: Ari Aster. Starring: Toni Collette, Milly Shapiro, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff [15]

Hereditary is a film that has been subject to much debate. Suspectedly from its marketing to which the film may suffer a bad reception from a general audience seeking out the cheap thrills and jump scares of a typical horror film. But Hereditary is far from typical, it’s a slow-moving (dare I say) drama brimming with a clinging unescapable sense of dread and sorrow, that takes your expectations of what kind of a horror film this was going to be and puts them out the window.

Director Ari Aster before his moment in the sun with Hereditary has made short films tackling issues of family. To which Hereditary is no different. It’s not difficult to get a sense of and while it is normal to look for the social commentary in horror. Quite simply this is a nail-biting experience from start to finish. The characters, the home, the film itself is self-reflected on by the Aster. Highlighting the orchestration with its dollhouse effect, it is a moment that ripples throughout the film. A seemingly innocent enough shot cascades an artificial feeling of dread throughout the picture, as though they are all pawns on a chessboard. The film definitely plays on the audience’s psyche, both in watching the film as well as in our natural reactions with the “horror” aspects of our lives. Like seeing a figure standing in the corner of a dark room and wondering if it is just your imagination. Hereditary knows these moments and it tells you that no, it is not your imagination…that is a scary thought.

To an extent the film leaves a weight in the stomach of the audience as right from the get-go the film has acknowledged with us that our expectations are met – this won’t end well. It’s a technique that unsettles, demystifies – which makes the horror appear that much more real, but most crucially heightens the nail-biting drama of this family. But this does have some stumbling effects on the more supernatural parts of the story. Firstly it is lacking some nuance and meat to its narrative to which is sorely lacking in the climax of the picture which is absolute. Elements of its plotting are certainly generic and a lesser director could not have gotten away with some of the more ridiculous elements of exposition. Also at times, the film can border on awkward and in its subdued telling of its horror, it can feel somewhat lacking but even in saying that I’m reminded of the lasting tension that Hereditary leaves washed over you.

Hereditary is a film that made me sink back into my seat and make me want to turn away but equally had my eyes fixated on the screen. I felt sorrow, I felt dread, I felt pity and I most certainly felt horror. Carried firmly and effortlessly by the outstandingly hypnotic performance from Toni Collette as Annie who stumbles down the rabbit hole of her mothers past without even realising and slowly the family and us the audience are subject to all sorts of horrors, an unrelenting tension and a paralysing sense of dread. Hereditary is a film to endure, with plenty to think about – mainly because it will haunt you for the next few days after seeing it.

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