There’s a scene very early on in ‘Hereditary’ where it becomes apparent that Charlie (Milly Shapiro), the youngest daughter of Annie (Toni Collette) and Steve (Gabriel Byrne) has a nut allergy. Such is the bleak, oppressive and downright miserable mood of this film that when - some 20-odd minutes in - Charlie and her brother Peter (Alex Wolff) attend a party, and you see a character chop some nuts, you know that things aren’t going to end well. Things never go well for our main characters, and if there’s a chance something will go horribly, horribly wrong, it will. And then drop an anvil on the ill-fated character for no reason other than ‘why not’.
It’s the type of movie that would make Murphy (esteemed lawyer responsible for the law that anything that can go wrong will go wrong) shrug his shoulders and go ‘Seriously? Lighten up, man’.
Every scene, every moment, every frame is filled with dread, anguish and torment. Every revelation about the main characters adds another layer of dysfunction and trauma to characters who are already struggling. They’re not easy characters to like, but they’re easy characters to feel sorry for - and that’s before the supernatural shenanigans start. The film begins with the Graham family mourning the loss of Annie’s mother a woman who - it turns out - was a particularly nasty piece of work. It’s not long before both Annie and Charlie start seeing apparitions, people start behaving very oddly and, well, not very nice things happen to the entire Graham clan.
Writer/director Ari Aster keeps us on the uneven ground throughout. We’re never sure how much of the events are the result of a family working its way through grief, the family trying to exorcise the various traumas suffered at the hands of Annie’s mother and how much might be Annie exhibiting some somewhat terrifying signs of Munchausen-by-proxy and how much is the result of supernatural goings-on.
Aster keeps the atmosphere tense throughout - mainly thanks to remarkable performances from Toni Collette (who really deserves kudos come awards time for her portrayal of a woman on the edge of sanity with some pretty funky skeletons in the closet) and Gabriel Byrne, who brings subdued frustration and desperation to his role as Annie’s long-suffering husband.
Equally crucial is the Carpenter-esque score that may not be subtle but reinforces the dire atmosphere permeating throughout.
It’s a movie that’ll clearly divide audiences. Some will love its robust blend of grief and horror; others may find it too slow-paced, too deliberate and lacking in jump scares to really be useful.
One thing’s for sure, by the film’s end, those who love it will be devastated. Those who hate it will either burst out laughing or scream ‘You’ve gotta be shitting me’ at the screen. As for me, I’m somewhere in between. There’s an awful lot to process and, quite frankly, I was too busy being terrified to really process any real, critical response. To work out if I really liked it or not, I’d have to see it again… and… there’s no chance of that happening in this lifetime.
Anotherfilmnerd's earliest cinematic memory was seeing Don Johnson throw up all over a suspect in John Frankenheimer's 'Dead Bang'. Ever since, he's devoted his life to searching out cinema that's weird, wonderful and features vomit in the most unlikely of places.