Review: Hereditary

By far the most effective element in Ari Aster’s debut horror movie is Toni Collette’s face. Hereditary veers wildly and often incomprehensibly between domestic psychological drama and occult mystery, and the only thing holding it together is Collette’s command of her character’s mixture of incredulity and base terror. She plays Annie, a diorama artist grieving over her recently deceased mother, whom she never really liked but nonetheless felt connected to in a primal way she never understood. Her family—ineffectual psychiatrist husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), 16-year-old pothead son Peter (Alex Wolff), slightly developmentally disabled 13-year-old daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro)—empathize with her but mostly stay out of her way through the fitful funeral and its aftermath. When the mother’s grave is subsequently vandalized, Annie’s torment intensifies, and she joins a grief counseling group, where she meets Joan (Ann Dowd), who has a lot of peculiarly apt advice.

However, the movie’s sense of possibility doesn’t really kick in until halfway through, when an accident plunges the family into new depths of suffering. At first, the ghostly goings on seem predicated on Annie’s damaged psyche, and Aster actually has some gruesome fun teasing the viewer through ambiguous episodes that could point to either mental dissolution or forces from beyond. Characters are possessed, things go bump in the night, rooms catch on fire, and all the while Steve tries his best to keep up a professional game face despite evidence that the world he inhabits is becoming, literally, a living hell.

Inevitably, Aster has to show his hand, and given the elaborate and elaborately plotted setup, the climax is at once unnecessarily overdone and logically implausible, even within the liberal confines of an occult thriller. The most common source text cited so far has been Rosemary’s Baby, whose horrific power flowed from Roman Polanski’s subtle manipulation of clues. Aster is constanly hitting us where we live with inventive terrors, so the big reveal is invariably a letdown. We feel as if we’ve seen it before, and done better.

Now playing in Tokyo at Toho Cinemas Nihonbashi (050-6868-5045), Toho Cinemas Hibiya (050-6868-5068), Toho Cinemas Shinjuku (050-6868-5063), Toho Cinemas Shibuya (050-6868-5002), Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills (050-6868-5024), Cinema Sunshine Ikebukuro (03-3962-6388).

Hereditary home page in Japanese.

photo (c) 2018 Hereditary Film Productions LLC

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