I don’t know if anyone feels the exactly same way about it as I do, but I honestly think that we are currently living in the golden age of horror films. When you think about it, its not hard to understand why. Over pass the eight years as horror grown more and more in popularity among audiences, many great filmmakers have produced horror films that have gone on to be become instant classics of the genre overnight. Especially made by ones from the world of independent cinema, where some of today’s most truly original genre offerings can be found. Every year an independently made horror film comes out of nowhere, instantly grabs the everyone’s attention and becomes either a highly acclaimed or box-office hit. We’ve seen this happen recently horror films like GET OUT, THE BABADOOK, IT FOLLOWS, THE WITCH etc., which are now considered as modern classics of the genre. The latest horror film to receive such praise is writer/director Ari Aster’s debut film HEREDITARY, which has been getting a lot of buzz since it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. Did the film live up to its hype? Read on and find out!
The film tells the story of a miniaturist artist and designer Annie Graham (Toni Collette) and her family – husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), teenage son Peter (Alex Wolff) and young daughter Charlie (Milly Sharpio) – who are mourning the loss of her mother Ellen, who had just passed away from after a long battle of mental illness and dementia. Since Annie had a very fractured relationship with her mother, she has been unsure how to truly feel about her death. After returning home from the funeral, Annie and her family start to notice some very strange occurrences happening around the home. At first the family brushes it off but as time goes on, these truly terrifying events begin to escalate more and Annie starts to believe that sinister supernatural forces are trying to destroy them all.
Now I should state that before I go into my review that even though that my description of the plot that I wrote above does seem pretty straight forward, there is actually lot more to the film’s story than that and I don’t want to spoil it any further. Believe me, HEREDITARY is one of those films where it’s best to try and go into it as blind as possible. After I heard of the reaction that received from both critics and audiences at the Sundance Film Festival back in January, I personally decided not to read any reviews or watch any trailers prior to it’s theatrical release. Usually I don’t really do that for most films (I have to at least watch a trailer, so I can at least have some idea what I can expect from the film in question) but based on what heard from people who saw it, I got a feeling that it would be more rewarding for me as a viewer if I didn’t know what to expect at all. Now having finally seen HEREDITARY myself, what did I think of it? Did it managed to live to its buzz? Well, I’m not going to lie: I was completely and utterly blown away by this film. This was absolutely phenomenal and terrifying horror film that was able to keep me on edge from very first frame to the last. Seriously it takes a lot for a horror film these days to really freak me out and shake me to my core, HEREDITARY managed to that more than any other one that I have seen recently (after it was over, my palms were sweating). You know what really shocks me about this though? Is that this is a very first ever feature film from up-and-coming filmmaker Ari Aster.
After making quite a few acclaimed short films over the pass few years (his most well know being the darkly satirical drama/thriller THE STRANGE THING ABOUT THE JOHNSONS, a truly mess up short that has to be seen to be believed), writer/director Ari Aster did an absolutely brilliant job with his debut feature-length film. As you are watching the film, you can tell drew his inspiration from classic horror films (THE EXORCIST, THE SHINING, THE OMEN, ROSEMARY’S BABY, BURNT OFFERINGS, THE CHANGELING etc.) in how he wanted craft HEREDITARY from both writing and directing standpoint. I can tell you right now, he definitely excelled at both. When it comes to his direction, Aster masterfully knows how to get under your skin and truly horrify you by what you are seeing on-screen. There are so many scenes and images throughout the film that really chilled me to the bone in how they were both staged and executed. However Aster also knows that true ingredient to having a horror film be really effective, is that you have to a believable human element at the centre of it that everyone can relate to. Besides being a horror film, HEREDITARY is also a dark unflinching drama about a family dealing with tragedy and how it affects them in different ways. Aster’s complex screenplay explores these aspects in a raw and hard-hitting way, which I believed helped heighten the horror of the film’s story. Plus his script doesn’t fallback on the genre’s tropes and actually manages to surprise us in where he goes with the film’s many shocking turns. Not only that, he also added a little dark humour to it to give us a bit of levity in some of the most intense scenes as well.
Another thing that I thought really made HEREDITARY such a truly riveting experience for me, was the performances from its amazing cast. While everyone is fantastic in their roles, there’s no question that this film really has to be seen for Australian actress Toni Collette’s performance as the film’s lead character ‘Annie Graham’. I’ve been a huge fan of Collette as actor ever since I saw her in the classic Aussie comedy MURIEL’S WEDDING when I was a teenager. She a truly wonderful actress who always gives strong work no matter what film or TV project she was involved in. I have seen so many great turns from her over the years, but there’s no shred of doubt in my mind that her turn in HEREDITARY is without a doubt *the* defining performance of her entire career so far. Collette gave such a truly powerhouse, tour-de-force performance that I was blown away with how she portrayed the role. From beginning to end, I was completely enthralled by her performance and what her character went through during the film. This is the kind of role that would have been very difficult for any actor to pull off due the wide range of emotions and complexities that the character goes through in the film, Collette managed to convey all those aspects so brilliantly that I was legitimately stunned with how she was able to achieve it. Seriously her performance here was so astonishing, I honestly believe right now that she is going to get nominated for an Oscar for it next year. Yes, she was truly that good in this film.
As fantastic as Toni Collette is, her supporting cast also put in some equally great turns as well. While his role may not be as flashy as all the others in the film, Gabriel Byrne still gave a really strong and compelling turn as the father of ‘Graham’ family ‘Steve’. Alex Wolff was truly superb in his role as the son ‘Peter’. Just like Collette, Wolff also has a really complex character to work with and I thought that he pulled it off brilliantly. The character of ‘Peter’ goes through so much during the film that we can’t help but feel sympathy and fear for him. Newcomer Milly Shapiro was great as the troubled young daughter ‘Charlie’. I never heard of Shapiro prior this film, so I was extremely impressed with her performance here. She definitely has a really engaging presence about her. Finally Ann Dowd was simply terrific as ‘Joan’, a woman who ‘Annie’ meets and befriends at grief counselling sessions. On the technical side of things: Pawel Pogorzelski’s cinematography was sublimely atmospheric, the score by Colin Stetson was both haunting and unnerving, the production design was excellent and the editing was top-notch. Now was there anything about the film that I thought was flawed? Truth be told any problems that I had with the film were very minor. I must admit that there was some little aspects of the plot that I thought were a little confusing. I can’t really say what they are since I would have to go into spoiler territory to explain them, so I’m not going to. However that being said though, I have a feeling that these aspects will become clearer to me when I see the film again. Also I should state that film is not going to be for everyone. HEREDITARY is definitely more in line with recent art house/indie horror films like THE WITCH or THE BABADOOK than it is with recent mainstream ones like IT or GET OUT. If you liked the former films, then you’ll dig this one too. If you didn’t, there’s possibly that you enjoy this one either.
Overall while I have a feeling that this is a film that’s probably not going to work for everyone (I can see why some people might hate it) but for me personally, I thought HEREDITARY was absolutely amazing and frightening film that’s definitely up there as one of the best horror films that I have seen so far in this decade. In fact I would go on a limb and even say that this film is full-blown horror masterpiece. There has been a few films in the pass few years that have truly knocked the complete wind out of me after I watched them, HEREDITARY is definitely without one of them (there’s no question that this is going to have a spot on my top 10 films of 2018 list that’s for sure). If you a huge horror fan like I am, I definitely highly recommend you to check this film out. Believe me, it’s an experience that has to be seen. It’s without a doubt *the* defining horror film of 2018.
Review by Bede Jermyn