When the matriarch of the Graham family passes away, her daughter’s family begins to unravel cryptic and increasingly terrifying secrets about their ancestry. – (Source)
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 93% (Critics) / 96% (Audience)
MetaScore: 87 – Universal acclaim
Directed By: Ari Aster
Written By: Ari Aster
Starring: Toni Collette, Milly Shapiro, Gabriel Byrne and Ann Dowd
Toni Collette was amazing in this film. She delivers one of the most raw and honest performances I have seen in a movie in quite a while. Collette is pretty much perfect through the entire movie but the dinner scene where she unleashes a mixture of sadness, guilt and venom on her son is the type of work that gets an actor nominated for an Oscar.
All of the actors in HEREDITARY bring their A games and even though Gabriel Byrne is given a thankless role as the skeptical, even keeled husband of Collette’s character, his quiet presence is a nice counterbalance to the whirlwind of emotion that Collette brings to the proceedings.
I also enjoyed seeing veteran character actress Ann Dowd (best remembered by me for her turn as Patti in HBO’s THE LEFTOVERS but probably best known by everyone else for being Aunt Lydia on THE HANDMAID’S TALE). Dowd brings the sturdy workmanlike charm I have come to expect from her in a role that always keeps the viewer guessing about her true intentions. And the actors playing the children of the doomed graham family handled themselves very well up against such established co-stars. Alex Wolff was a bundle of awkward nerves as Alex, the Grahams teenage son and Milly Shapiro (in her first movie role) was quite good as Charlie, the Graham’s incredibly peculiar 13 year old daughter.
Ari Aster does good work in the director’s chair by creating a constant sense of unease through this film’s almost the entire 127 minute running time. Using familiar camera tricks and innovative framing of scenes to mirror the way one would view the miniature doll houses that were a constant presence in the Graham home was a cool trick and did a lot to make things that seemed normal (like a family sitting down for a meal) come across as being off in some way. And the use of music to build tension was done masterfully with string instruments and flutes starting off low and building during a scene so that the audience’s anticipation builds right along with the music.
The first 3/4’s of HEREDITARY was a tense and quietly eerie deep dive into the psychological breakdown of a seemingly normal family after a tragedy befalls them and that was so entertaining to watch. Sure it wasn’t balls to the wall, in your face horror but it still delivered on a visceral level.
While I liked the look of HEREDITARY and some of the use of angles and framing were very clever there also was a bit of stock camera work that tends to be seen in nearly all the horror films of the past 5 or so years and especially in horror that is deemed as being “prestige” or “high brow” horror that A24 is known for as a studio. It is the well worn slow pan across a set piece and then the camera will stop and seemingly focus on an area as a slow zoom begins. All the while the score is increasing in volume and intensity. I have seen it so many times in so many of these movies that it has become a bit of a tired cliche.
The final act of this movie was jarring in the way it took such a hard left turn from serious psychological drama/thriller with paranormal undertones into a full blown PARANORMAL ACTIVITY sequel with better production values. Maybe if the audience had been eased into things a bit more by peppering the movie with more of the overt supernatural stuff all through out it would not have been such a hard pivot to have to deal with as a viewer.
For all of it’s attempts at being an elevated horror film, the plot at the center of HEREDITARY is dumb as hell. A whole bunch of nonsense about a cult or coven worshiping some minor evil deity and their quest to find said minor deity a new host form just came across like the type of silliness that would have been right at home on a b-movie presented by Svengoolie.
Final Verdict: A slightly uneven but completely competent horror film that gets by on a nearly constant sense of unnerving and a powerhouse performance from Toni Collette. For Collette’s wonderful work alone HEREDITARY is totally worth seeing.