Wednesday, June 13, 2018

A Reel Review: HEREDITARY



The horror film genre has seen many phases in the last 30 years. After the splatter-fests of the 1970’s, we had the slashers of the 1980’s, which were followed by the found-footage crap and the torture-porn of the 90’s and the early 2000’s. The new millennium ushered in an era of remakes and cheap scares, and today…the genre is exploring its newest phase in psychological terror; taking a grounded approach which has movie-goers debating if they actually qualify as a horror film. Such a film is Ari Aster’s HEREDITARY.

After the death of her mother, Annie (Toni Collette), and her daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro), and son Peter (Alex Wolff), begin having odd and terrifying experiences; ranging from nightmares, visions, and family tragedy.

HEREDITARY hangs its hat of horror on the hook of mind games. In this scary movie, there is no lumbering goon with a knife, no angry ghost, and no creature lurking in the walls. Instead, director Ari Aster goes for a slow burn with an undefined threat; as Annie and her family slowly unravel the mystery of what’s been happening to them since grandma died. There are several questions to be answered for the characters, each leading them to revelations of their own family with terrifying results.

Aster weaves a story with a lot of misdirection and red herrings, which work very well. The film goes in one direction to make us think we know the answer, only to veer off and suddenly change direction and obliterate everything we thought we had figured out. There are clues scattered around the film to reveal it all, and by the time the credits roll it almost demands a second viewing to understand it all more. In fact, there may a little too much spread throughout the film, and to fully understand the finale requires a lot of attention and thinking. This is a thinking-man’s horror film, and there’s nothing cheap about it.

HEREDITARY doesn’t bother with the cheap jump-scares that the kids love these days, and instead builds a glorious and un-settling atmosphere of dread. The opening minutes alone will have audiences looking over their shoulders, and the film somehow gets under the skin; we’ll never look at those shadows in our bedrooms at night the same way ever again. The film is shot and edited beautifully, and a few camera tricks with miniature models are stunning.

Acting is very good, with Toni Collette leading the way. Her character goes through a lot; from terror to outright painful grief, and she is outstanding every minute. A lot of credit has to be given to the younger cast of Milly Shapiro and Alex Wolff who both have a lot of heavy lifting to do. Gabriel Byrne plays the husband of Annie and does very well as he always does, and Ann Dowd has a small, but very effective role.

Famed director Paul Thomas Anderson once said that it is better to confuse the audience for five minutes than to let them get ahead of you for 10 seconds, and Ari Aster seems to have listened. While HEREDITARY isn’t impenetrable, it does take work…and the last 20 minutes offer a glorious dose of what the holy hell is going on.  But in the end the film works and works well. It is a terror that sticks, and has the ability to spark discussion. If this new phase of horror films is to excel, HEREDITARY serves as one of the best examples.

BOTTOM LINE: See it




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