HEREDITARY OPENS at a funeral, as Annie Graham eulogises her 78-year-old mother, Ellen, with whom she had a difficult relationship, something she is unsettlingly candid about.
Her mother had “secret rituals and secret friends” and she laments the years they spent estranged. Later she comments how her mother insisted on breastfeeding her youngest daughter. Annie has also had a difficult relationship with her children. Her youngest daughter is seen cutting the head off a dead pigeon on her school lunch break as she struggles to deal with her grief.
This is the debut film from 31-year-old director Ari Aster. Made with a tiny budget it comes from the same studio that brought us The Witch in 2016. With a wonderful cast of character actors it is hard to believe this is Aster's first film. Toni Collette plays Annie, and her performance recalls Shelly Duvall in The Shining, in the way she has a wonderful face for horror movies. Her screams are as visual as they are audible.
However, Ann Dowd, like everything she is in lately, steals the movie. She plays Joan, a new friend of Annie who seems to know more than she lets on. Dowd is currently on our television screens as the truly vile Aunt Lydia in The Handmaid's Tale. She has this amazing ability to be terrifyingly scary but also vulnerable and sympathetic. Annie’s husband Steve is played by Gabriel Byrne, an actor who has often struggled to get really great roles. I really enjoyed seeing him here in an exciting, good, film. The young daughter with an unsuspecting face is played by Milly Shapiro [pictured below] - the original Matilda on broadway - who is sensationally creepy here.
Rosemary's Baby came out 50 years ago this month. It is quite fitting that 50 years into the “age of Adrian” we are getting a modern take on that deeply upsetting premise. The idea of a mother being used as a vessel by a family member for a sinister goal is a concept that really horrifies me. Weaponizing pregnancy and using it against a mother and the people who she trusts the most, her family, are the ones betraying her. For me, it is a concept that, the more you think about, the more upsetting it is. Rather than a jump scare that makes you jump out of your skin for a few seconds and then back to the film, Hereditary plants a seed in your mind that lingers for weeks after.
It is not flawless however and is possibly a bit too long with one or two side plots that maybe were not necessary. I would also say that this is not a movie for everyone. Some people find supernatural horror (and this does feature supernatural horror ) silly and cannot quite get in the head space for it. Fair enough, but for me, this is an incredibly upsetting, and deeply affecting, brilliant, horror film.