Hereditary

Hereditary ★★★★

A24's most unnerving bone-chiller yet! Right from the mortuary intro, this one is just fucking malevolent. Plus it manages to keep a superb sense of mood modulation and amplifies it with bowel-swiveling images. As the days pass, I'll still be thinking of those ant infested bodies, nakedly grinning figures and artful dollhouse tableaus. Yeugh!

Back in 2011, Aster made his 28 minute familial shocker The Strange Thing About the Johnsons. It was so thematically transgressive that it's still got a viral response. With Hereditary, he's now gone feature-length, and should be acknowledge as one helluva insidious auteur.

Literally in the opening frame, a death notice is given to 78-year-old Ellen Taper Leigh. Call it an invitation. It's safe to say she won't be resting in peace; as her distraught daughter, Annie (Toni Collette) describes her as a woman of "private anxieties". Meanwhile, Annie's mild-mannered husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) and their two children: creepily restless, Charlie (Milly Shapiro) and brooding stoner, Peter (Alex Wolff), are dealing with their grief in various ways.

"Should I be sadder?", Peter says to Annie, when she decides to check up on him after the funeral. While Steve seems quietly apathetic to the whole ordeal. But the initial focus is on Charlie; who goes on nighttime visits to the nearby treehouse, has vivid drawings in a sketchpad and keeps a dead pigeon's head as a souvenir. Through her grandmother's spirit, she begins to act upon disturbing impulses. Which additionally get traced to Annie and Peter.

The strength of Hereditary is turning a séance-ridden ghost story (a factor that may not be too original), into a dramatic force of mental desolation. Much of it becomes more traditionally "horror", but the first-to-midpoint has such an emotional framework on a wrecked family, that it should be deemed a psychological drama.

Collette is a tour de force of just...so many damn superlatives. From her raging hysteria at the dinner table (which is so gobsmacking that she gives the impression of being "possessed"), to her agitated, frayed and grief-stricken dilemma via her belief in the séance. Her moments of eerie quietude are just as visceral, too, since she's a gallery artist who creates these fastidiously detailed dollhouses. And seeing how the generational-conduit is passed into her behaviours (even crafting more dollhouses of her family's misfortunes!) is enough to sear the soul.

Courtesy of support-group member Joan (Ann Dowd), Annie decides to embrace the afterlife. But will the afterlife embrace her? From then on, Hereditary escalates the tension into a stratospheric spook-fest that'll truly disturb the Grahams. I just wish that Aster could've solidified the mythological aspect more; hailed demons in a textbook, because it's a fascinating genesis that's largely kept hidden. While the CG itself; an orb of passing blue light, is tacky at best.

As the petrified son, Wolff excels at despondent moroseness, but whiffs most of his crying breakdowns. And although Byrne gets a scarce, unhinged moment (by disagreeing with his wife's methods to communicate beyond), he's oddly muted to it all. This is essentially Collette's dread-induced brilliance, but I've gotta laud young Shapiro who sinks into her anguish (whether it's blanketed or asphyxiated), to depict a child who's suffering via her grandmother's twisted communion.

Finally, I adored the formal craft as well. The calibrated zooms (within the Grahams' eminent home and the dollhouses themselves), to the shrewd cross-fades, the somber lighting and the guttural sound design. I'd easily revisit Hereditary on all of its simmering malevolence.

In hindsight, all of painstaking build-up is necessary. To establish the Grahams' bottled-up relations, their grief-stricken stillness and to uneasily fix these events. When that's supported by Aster's interior artistry, I was hypnotized by it all. Yet the skin-gnawing concept of Hereditary is its most unshakably memorable one. That even the genealogical bloodline can torment its offspring from beyond the grave. Sensitively connect with them at a séance, and they'll still afflict you with an onslaught. Damn.

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