Combustible Celluloid
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With: Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Gabriel Byrne, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd
Written by: Ari Aster
Directed by: Ari Aster
MPAA Rating: R for horror violence, disturbing images, language, drug use and brief graphic nudity
Running Time: 127
Date: 06/08/2018

Hereditary (2018)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Family Doom

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This clammy, creeping horror movie is deeply rooted in classics from the 1960s, 1970s, and beyond, but it also builds upon them; it's deliberate and severe, and it's unafraid to cross a line or two.

In Hereditary, artist Annie Graham (Toni Collette) and her family — husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), son Peter (Alex Wolff), and daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) — get ready for her mother's funeral. Not long after, strange things begin to happen. Annie sees apparitions in the house, she begins sleepwalking again, and she wonders if her family's troubled past is about to catch up with her.

Meanwhile, Peter goes to a teen party and is forced to bring Charlie along. When she accidentally eats nuts and triggers her allergy, Charlie must rush her to the hospital, but a terrible car accident kills her instead. Afterward, Peter begins seeing and hearing strange things as well. At a grief counseling group meeting, Annie meets Joan (Ann Dowd), who offers to teach Annie a way to contact Charlie via the spirit world. Unfortunately, this séance causes things to get even stranger.

A feature writing and directing debut by Ari Aster, Hereditary draws from movies as far back as Rosemary's Baby and as recent as Poltergeist, with elements like ghosts and cults and resurrections, but it uses them for inspiration only. Aster is not interested in merely referencing. He goes deeper into things unsettling and uncontrollable. His camera continually draws back for a wider, more cathedral-like picture, allowing for more dire possibilities in each frame. Thanks to this, and to Annie's freaky miniature models, nightmares and so-called reality blur easily.

The music and sound design (listen for that tongue click) are likewise chilling, recalling the throbbing, humming soundtracks of David Lynch's films, but still effective. Yet it's the performances that finally sell it, notably Collette in a truly tormented turn. She's unsure of what's going on or what's real and stuck in a loop of shock and panic. Wolff is also appealing, in a more relatable type of terror, sitting at his desk at school, sleep-drained and wide-eyed.

Unfortunately, Byrne is stuck in one of those non-believer roles, asked to grow angrily impatient at all the supernatural "nonsense" going on, but the movie does not suffer for it. Hereditary is a deeply unnerving experience, one that hardcore horror fans will eagerly drink in.

Lionsgate's Blu-ray release features excellent audio and picture, and comes with a bonus DVD and digital copy. Extras include a 20-minute behind-the-scenes studio-produced featurette, 15 minutes of deleted scenes, and a photo gallery (highlighting Annie's miniature models). There are also a handful of like-minded trailers for other dark films at startup.

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