Hereditary ★★★★

It's best to avoid knowing anything about this before going in, and I'd also recommend seeing it with a crowd. A lady sitting in front of me kept saying, "Oh, hell no!" at certain points in the movie, probably loudly enough for the entire theater to hear. So maybe you don't want to see it with her. But it is a movie you want to see with a crowd. There was a palpable sense of dread in the theater.

This is Ari Aster's film debut, and I can't wait to see what he does next. Here, he succeeds because he keeps the audience on their toes for the duration of a movie, and he does it by making it absolutely impossible to know what to expect, almost to the point where it's ludicrous or incoherent. It's such an assured control of chaos, and Aster isn't afraid to reach for crescendos in his story, especially in movie's final act, all these rhapsodic and cinematic moments. It's batshit crazy, but it never splashes all over the place.

Horror movies scare me as much as the next fellow, but it's usually the jump-scares that get me the most. This doesn't depend on those kinds of frights at all. There are unexpected figures to be seen, inexplicable mysteries, and a couple few of those types of jump-scares, but this is mostly a slow-burning strangeness that gets under your skin and makes you feel uneasy. It's got a lot in common with supernatural horror movies from the 70s, the kind that build an uneasiness piece by piece before unleashing something that will make you piss yourself. I'm usually ok with those, appreciating the artful creation of a scary story more than actually being scared by it. Hereditary, however, gave me literal goose pimples, and that's not something I can remember happening before.

Aster borrows elements from other horror movies, sure, but he puts it all together in a way that really creates a unique voice. The opening shot, with the atonal score, is an absurdly slow panning shot that shows us a tree house, some miniatures the mother creates, and finally one miniature room that becomes the real room with the real characters as it finishes its zoom. I can't remember a movie that so effectively sets the mood right off the bat like that. The film isn't all dread. There is some humor thrown in. The audience I saw this with laughed quite a bit actually, although some of that might have been to break up this building tension. The real star of this movie is the camera. It doesn't show us these characters as much as it watches these characters. Lots of extended shots trap you into these scenes with these characters. It's very effective, maybe too effective if you ask the "Oh, hell no!" woman.

Toni Collette, who plays the mother, really keeps you guessing in this thing. Her performance almost reaches Nic Cagian heights at times in this.

This makes sense as a surface-level supernatural story about possession and some other things that I won't get into because I wouldn't want to spoil anything. At the same time, there are clear references to mental health, problems that really seem to be hereditary. A second viewing would maybe help unfold what Aster is trying to say about that.

I hope this is the most terrifying movie I see in a theater this year. I'm not sure I can handle one that tops it.