Director: Ari Aster
An excellent horror movie that masterfully blends some of the very best elements of earlier classics of the horror genre.
The story begins with an obituary and funeral service for Leigh Graham, mother of Annie (Toni Collette). Leigh was, by Annie's account, a rather odd, sometimes reclusive, sometimes domineering figure who seemed to have strange plans and goals for her children and grandchildren. With her mother gone, Annie returns to her life as a professional artist specializing in miniatures, particularly dioramas of homes, buildings, and the people within them. On the surface, Annie seems to have the things that many people would wish for - a beautiful home in a lush forested area, a loving husband, and two children, Peter (Alex Wolff) and Charlie (Milly Shapiro). However, things are far from ideal. Aside from Annie's mother's haunting influence on her life, Peter is a typically frustrated teenage boy, and Charlie is a 13-year old who is oddly detached and seemingly dealing with some sort of intellectual handicap. When horrific tragedy strikes the family, such a short time after Leigh's death, Annie can barely take it. As she tries to keep from losing her grip on sanity, strange things seem to begin happening to her and her family. These events even suggest some sort of horribly sinister conspiracy acting upon all of them.
Though clearly modern in its setting, scripting, and acting, this film is great classic throwback horror. While I'm not an aficionado of the genre, I feel that I've seen many of the classics; in particular, the grittier and more existentially horrifying films that started cropping up in the late 1960s. Hereditary takes the spirit of a film like Rosemary's Baby and updates it masterfully by adding in touches seen in more modern horror flicks like The Babadook. But while the shared elements are fairly obvious, and some of the visual scares are familiar, nothing felt like an outright ripoff. Writer and director Ari Aster does a brilliant job of taking familiar ingredients and working them into something that felt rather fresh and gets back to what I consider genuine horror in more of an H.P. Lovecraft or even Edgar Allen Poe vein. No, this movie doesn't contain some of the wildly fantastic elements of those noted horror writers, but Aster's philosophy of what makes a horror tale is clearly in tune with those early masters.
One of the many excellent aspects of this movie is how it manages to keep you guessing for much of its considerable length. While the movie certainly offers more than a few hints about what, exactly, is behind the dark chaos swirling around Annie, it doesn't fully tip its hand until the appropriate time. And even then, the final ten minutes are bound to shock most viewers - even ones who may have sussed out everything about the plot.
|Steve looks over his peculiar daughter Charlie's drawings.|
There are plenty of little allusions and pieces of fore-
shadowing all over this movie. But they don't become
clear until it's all steamrolling towards its dark climax.
The visuals are great. They never utilize much in the way of dazzling special effects, but when visual flourishes are required, they are handled deftly. Sure, a few of the scares will seem very familiar to anyone who's ever seen a haunted house movie. But this movie adds elements of the eerie and psychological, adding extra impact to such scenes.
Fans of more graphic, sensational horror will probably see little to like in this movie, which is why I suspect that fan reception has been vastly more mixed that the glowing critical reception. It does ask for patience from its viewers, along with an appreciation for very slow-burn narratives. Being a fan of such things, I highly recommend it to others with similar tastes.