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Hereditary is a shining example of modern horror

Toni Collette stars in unforgettable film that borrows from the genre’s classics and has creepiness seeping out from each corner of the screen

14 June, 2018 — By Dan Carrier

Milly Shapiro and Toni Collette in Hereditary

HEREDITARY
Directed by Ari Aster
Certificate 15
☆☆☆☆☆

THIS is pure horror – an unbearable mixture of death, violence, ghosts, great unknowns and freaky rituals. Hereditary deserves to be an instant classic of a genre that has in recent years felt like it has run its course.

Annie (Toni Collette) is an artist who works from a studio in the family home. It’s a well-laid-out abode in the country with polished wooden floors.

She creates tiny worlds through her work, specialising in 3D miniature scenes – an open-plan downstairs for family life to be on view, and then long corridors and tucked away bedrooms upstairs that create a sense of being able to get lost, not a roof under which family life is neatly drawn.

Outside, picture-perfect silver birch trees tower upwards, with well-planted flowerbeds and a beautiful tree house. All seem to have been created by a higher force, as if they are models too.

This is a clever trick of scene-setting, as we discover there are some forces out there that can play utter havoc, if they are allowed to.

We meet Annie as she is giving a eulogy at her mother’s funeral. The dearly departed was, it appears, a difficult woman at times, and someone who had a private life that her daughter knew little about. How difficult is about to become very clear. Her death sets in motion a series of events within the family that tears them apart – and to describe much more what happens to the four members of the Graham family would potentially ruin a horribly brilliant piece of horror film making.

Director Ari Aster has taken various crucial elements from the genre and given them some spit and polish. There’s The Exorcist in here, The Wicker Man’s play on the freaky elements of paganism, some devil worship, and a twisted idea of Judeo-Christian traditions regarding death and the afterlife.

It is wonderfully shot, with creepiness seeping out from each corner of the screen, but not in a way that feels boringly gothic. The score, by Colin Stetson, has the effect in places of scraping nails down a blackboard, keeping you in a constant state of nervous expectation, but above all, it’s the performances that really work.

Collete is simply superb as the mother who is trying to accept she has lost those she loves and, as we discover, perhaps loathes. Her facial expressions are as haunting as that of Shelley Duvall in The Shining as she discovers that All Work And No Play Makes Jack A Dull Boy.

Father Steve (Gabriel Byrne) offers some ballast against Collete’s glorious performance, a counterbalance to her terrors, until he begins to consider that what is happening might not be down to his wife’s apparent illness.

Their son, Peter (Alex Wolff), also offers a believability, a teenager who has become dislocated from his mother, scared of her, and having to deal with both an inner turmoil of adolescence and the events going on around him. Finally, daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) brings a series of tics and nuances to her character that belies her age.

The hours are now happily receding since the credits rolled, the darkness of the cinema has been left behind. But the terrifying sense of watching a truly great new horror still lingers. This is one you will not forget in a hurry.

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