HEREDITARY, the feature film debut from director Ari Aster, is a film that has left me speechless, emotionally scarred, and terrified of dark corners. The film stars Toni Collette (The Sixth Sense), Gabriel Byrne (The Usual Suspects), Alex Wolff (My Friend Dahmer), and newcomer, Milly Shapiro.
I think it’s extremely important not to give too many details surrounding the plot of HEREDITARY, so for that sake I will keep the synopsis brief. The film centers around the Graham family and opens up with the funeral of their matriarch. After laying her mom to rest, Annie (Collette) and her family learn of the devastating secrets that have been left behind as one horrific tragedy unfolds after another.
Writing a review about this film is extremely difficult as there are a lot of aspects that I want to talk about but can’t because I don’t want to spoil the film for anyone. With that said, I’m going to talk about this movie more in terms of it’s personal impact on me as well as the hype surrounding it. Many are comparing HEREDITARY to that of the classic horror film, The Exorcist, and I want to put that comparison out of your mind. HEREDITARY takes inspiration from films like The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby, but in the end it is its own film with nods to those classics.
At its core, HEREDITARY is a study on grief and tragedy, and to be honest, it’s heart wrenching to watch. Putting aside the supernatural elements that come later in the film, watching this family breakdown from the inside was incredibly difficult for me (and I think most viewers). Ari Aster does a fantastic job of showcasing how each member of the Graham Family handles their own grief and emotions due to the catastrophic events that befall them. Having lost a parent rather suddenly at around the same age of Peter Graham (Wolff), I found myself relating to his character more than I would like to admit. There were even moments throughout the movie where I felt tears well up in my eyes as I was reminded of the pain and heartache one goes through when they lose someone they love.
With that said, watching these talented actors take on such heavy themes was remarkable. Toni Collette steals the show as a mother on the brink of a psychotic break as tries to fully understand the magnitude of the situation she is in. There have been whispers of Oscar talk for her performance and honestly, she deserves all the nominations. Alex Wolff is also fantastic in the film as your typical high school kid who takes on a somberly transformation as he becomes a shell of his former self. Having just seen him in My Friend Dahmer (which I can’t recommend enough), it’s quite apparent why he’s quickly rising the ranks in Hollywood due to his dynamic performances that truly showcase his talents. Gabriel Byrne, who never disappoints in my opinion, plays Annie’s husband, Steve, whose character is the perfect opposing personality to that of Annie’s. Lastly, Milly Shapiro’s portrayal of Charlie, the youngest member of the family, gives an unforgettable performance that will stay with you long after the film has ended.
It isn’t until the 3rd act of the film that everything culminates in bat-shit insanity. If I thought the first 2/3 were rough, that was nothing compared to what myself, and the audience, went through during the last 30-40 minutes of the movie. It’s at this time that we, the viewer, begin to understand the complexity and shocking truth behind everything that is happening with the Grahams. There is one scene in particular, and you’ll know it when you see it, that made me audibly gasp and say “Fuck, no”. However, at that point there was no turning back as you are there to bear witness to the carnage and insanity that unfolds. Combining these well executed jump scares with the oppressive feeling of dread and despair resulted in a film that chews you up and spits you out with no recourse or second thoughts to your emotional or mental stability during this film.
For a first feature debut, Ari Aster knocks it out of the park. He knows how to craft a feeling of hopelessness while still being able to scare the audience without the use of musical cues or cheap tricks. From a filmmaking perspective, HEREDITARY is beautiful in its presentation most notably because of the cinematography by Pawel Pogorzelski. With wide camera shots that then focus in on a character, you do feel as though you are intimately connected with the characters as if you are in the house with them. As an Interior Designer, I was blown away by the style of the house as well as the art direction and the use of Annie’s job in tying together the overall story.
Overall, what more can I say about HEREDITARY? It blew my mind, it terrified me, and it made me confront my own perceptions about grief while being a cathartic tool in processing those same thoughts. I still haven’t fully processed this film and I feel like it’s one of those movies that needs to be viewed multiple times to fully understand everything it is presenting. If you are looking for a film that is going to shock you just for shock value, this isn’t it. HEREDITARY is a multi-layered film that does more than just scare or shock the audience, it makes you think about family dynamics and how far we would go for those that we love. To say that this film is a masterpiece would be an understatement, it’s a film that is going to be talked about for years to come as it rightfully cements itself as one of the best horror films of this generation. HEREDITARY arrives in theaters June 8th from A24 films.
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