(Release Info London schedule; June 14th, 2018, Vue Cinemas, West End, 12:20)
When Ellen Leigh (Rachelle Hardy), the matriarch of the Graham family, passes away, her daughter’s family begins to unravel cryptic and increasingly terrifying secrets about their ancestry. The more they discover, the more they find themselves trying to outrun the sinister fate they seem to have inherited. Making his feature debut, director Ari Aster unleashes a nightmare vision of a domestic breakdown that exhibits the craft and precision of a nascent auteur, transforming a familial tragedy into something ominous and deeply disquieting, and pushing the horror movie into chilling new terrain with it's shattering portrait of heritage gone to hell.
The Grahams are a seemingly ordinary, relatable American family plunged into grief in "Hereditary's" gripping opening minutes. Grappling with the loss of Ellen Leigh, Annie's mother and a cryptic matriarchal figure for the entire family, the Grahams process the death in disparate ways. When Annie attends a bereavement support group, we learn more about her late mother's life and heritage and Annie's feelings of alienation inside her own family. Annie is someone who has a lot of issues with her mother, but can't quite seem to get to the bottom of them. There are intimidations as to what Ellen was up to when she was alive, but Annie can't fully piece them together. There's probably a large part of her that doesn't want to know what her mother was doing. It's something she knows in her gut, but she has to deny it. If she looked straight at it, she'd be destroyed. A stay-at-home artist who's preparing for an imminent gallery show, Annie processes her angst by making art out of her life, miniature dollhouses depicting the Graham family's real-world trials and tribulations. She's creating these miniatures of real places and situations in her life, perfect little replicas that give her the feeling of having some control over her life and memories.
Annie's husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) spends long hours seeing clients in his psychotherapy practice; teenage son Peter (Alex Wolff) is adrift in high school, and sneaking joints with his stoner friends. Younger daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro), is remedial courses, bides her time brooding in the family tree house and quietly fabricating disturbing totems made from animal parts and household trinkets. Peter doesn't have a lot of direction in life. He has no serious interests and hasn't really formed a solid identity, but it becomes the bleak joke of the film that, by the end, he'll have been given a real sense of purpose. Charlie is tightly wound, extremely quiet and is crippled by social phobias. But there's more that's darkly off-kilter about her. As more is revealed, tbe Grahams come to feel like pawns beeing moved around by forces existing in the story's periphery. After introducing the Grahams, "Hereditary" teasingly shifts direction into the realm of a ghost story as Annie strikes up a friendship with Joan (Ann Dowd), a suburban housewife who's grieving the loss of her own recently deceased kin. She persuades Annie to join her in a séance, hinting at paranormal dimensions for the story's second half.
With his debut feature director Ari Alster builds on a series of short films centering on domestic rituals and trauma, telling the terrifying story of an American family battling malevolent forces that seek to colonize it's bloodline. The film is a prolonged succession of misfortune that comes to resemble a curce, marks the arrival of a born auteur. This shattering debut transforms the domestic trauma into a work of operatic horror calling to mind classics of the 1960s and '70s. Leading with an elegantly fluid tracking shot that seamlessly fuses two distinct story worlds. The film becomes a sinister vision of a family living under a terrifying curse. This is the story about people who've no agency. The Grahams are like figurines in a maligned dollhouse being manipulated by outside forces. The Grahams house is much a character in the movie as the house's human inhabitants. This movie falls into tbe haunted house genre. The film avoids those clichés like the plaque. No creaking floors or weathered walls or Gothic architecture. The main rooms and hallways of the house and Charlie's private tree house takes on a greater role in the film's diabolical climax.
Taking the cue from seemingly unlikely sources such as "Ordinary People", "The Ice Storm", and "In The Bedroom", searing dramas in which multigenerational families grapple with death, mental illness and emotional violence, Alster pushes "Hereditary" into the realm of supernatural horror. He fuses the substance of tbese emotional dramas with creative inspiration from iconic slow-burn shockers of the '60s and '70s, including "Rosemary's Baby", "Don't Look Now", and "The Innocents". The film shapes the story of a family that's literally cursed, suffering through a series of gruesome events revealed over time to be part of a grander Machiavellian scheme. The film's title takes on increasing chilling resonance as the story progresses, taking it's subject of lineage and bloodlines into the realm of supernatural horror and beyond. This is a movie about inheritance. The notion of having no choice in who your family is or what's in your blood. It's about the horror of being born into a situation over which you've no control. There's nothing more upsetting than the idea of being absolutely powerless.
The film deals with sacred family ritual and traditions turned toxic, finding dark comedy and hysteria in uncomfortable yet recognizable subjects. The film puts a lot of those feelings through a horror movie filter, where the canvas demands a high level catharsis. And if you're making a film about life being unfair, the horror genre is a very unique playground for that. It's this sort of perverse space where life's injustices are more or less celebrated and even gloried in. In it's rigorous examination of free will and it's damning insistance that everything is ordained and inevitable, "Hereditary" takes a fantastic stance toward breeding and generation. The fact that the Grahams have no agency is a crucial point in this movie, and the feeling at the end is one of hopelessness and futility. It's a simultaneously intimate and large-scale horror film that absolutely refuses to let the viewer off the hook. The film stays with people for a long time, and provokes them to contend with something deeper and more primal, a feeling of something inescapable. "Hereditary" goes to places few audiences will anticipate. Carefully embroidered nightmares about the horrors of family life.