It is not the story that counts but how the story is told.
HEREDITARY is a psychological supernatural horror film, the best horror film this year, that has a simple, straight forward premise but unfolds brilliantly in all departments. As the saying goes: “The devil is in the details,” and this adage is evident in every moment and detail found in the film. One scene has lead character Annie (Toni Colette) find a note after she spills blue paint on the table. She is seen carrying the note the next scene with the note noticeable with a spot of blue at the edge of it.
The film opens with a shot of a doll house with miniature furniture and figures inside. The camera closes in to one of the rooms, quite untidy, with a figure under the covers in the bed. By a hardly noticeable scene change, the room transforms to a real one, as a father, Steve Graham (Gabriel Bryne) enters it. The miniature furniture and rooms matter as this is the work of the mother, Annie who has the project of miniature art for a gallery. There are little objects in the miniature house that provide curious interest to those who notice.
When Ellen, the matriarch of the Graham family, passes away, her daughter’s family begins to unravel cryptic and increasingly terrifying secrets about their ancestry. “My mother was a very private person. She wasn’t always there, especially at the end.” Annie says of her mother at the eulogy. The more they discover, the more they find themselves trying to outrun the sinister fate they seem to have inherited.
Toni Collette delivers an Oscar winning performance. She has been cast in a lot of nuanced roles lately (MADAME and BIRTHMARKED) but this one shows her true worth. Though chances are low that one would win an Oscar for a horror flick, one would never know. Her pleadings: “Please, please, please,” to her husband are genuinely the most desperate as anything I have ever seen. The other great performance comes from Alex Wolff, who plays Peter, the son. Wolff was unforgettable in MY FRIEND DAHMER where he played the best friend of the serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.
Aster’s HEREDITARY is surprisingly compelling from start to finish. Though running at 127 minutes, there is not a dull moment. Aster also devotes almost equal time to each member of the family, allowing to audience to feel both the anguish and desperation of each member.
Aster’s humour is so sly that it often passes by without notice. The best example is the choice of the ending song played during the closing credits: Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now”, right after the film’s horror climax. Humour is also provided by the character of the over cheerful, Joan (Ann Dowd), a support group member who introduces Annie to the supernatural.
It is also neat the way the film manipulates the audience in wanting to believe that the supernatural exists. When Joan introduces Annie to her first seance, the audience wants the spirit to appear. When Annie insists that her dead daughter’s spirit can be conjured up, the audience wants it to happen. The sense of audience anticipation is brilliantly created, keeping the audience full attention to the proceedings. Another example is Annie’s eulogy at the funeral service of her mother, describing her mother but again priming the audience of the horrors to come.
HEREDITARY premiered at Sundance in the Midnight Section. It is the best horror film so far this year, a big surprise, reminiscent of the surprise horror hit, GET OUT last year. And the film has been getting rave reviews from almost everywhere it has played.