Hereditary is one of the most unsettling horror flicks in years


By Steve Newton

Hereditary has been generating a lot of buzz lately as the scariest horror flick in years, and I gotta admit that it’s pretty damn frightening in spots. It’s also brutally unsettling throughout, so be warned.

The movie opens with a shot of a typewritten obituary, and the fact that it doesn’t include one positive word about the deceased in its three paragraphs sets the tone for writer-director Ali Aster’s punishing portrait of grief, psychological trauma, and Satanism.

Toni Collette (The Sixth Sense) stars as Annie Graham, a diorama artist working on a project for an upcoming big-city gallery exhibit. Thanks to the exquisite camerawork of cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski, we are taken right inside the meticulously crafted rooms of the miniature homes Annie builds—faithful re-creations of the ones in her own house, a beautiful wooden mansion in a forest. (The film was shot in Utah.)

She’s joined in a mostly joyless existence there by dour husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), typical teenage son Peter (My Friend Dahmer’s Alex Wolff), and odd 13-year-old daughter Charlie (enigmatic newcomer Milly Shapiro).

At the funeral for her mother—the subject of the terse obit­—Annie reads a harsh eulogy that portrays the matriarch as secretive, eccentric, and anything but the ideal mom. Soon after the dead woman’s grave is desecrated, a tragic and shocking car accident cloaks the family in despair. The Grahams seemed pretty messed up to begin with, but the recent events take things to a whole new level of anguish.

In obvious need of help, Annie is befriended by Joan (Ann Dowd), a woman from the grief-support group she occasionally attends, who raves about the therapeutic benefits of holding a séance to communicate with lost loved ones. But Annie’s guilt-driven attempt to contact the other side only proves that you should never, ever mess with the occult.

With so much real-life emotional torment going on, by the time Hereditary’s supernatural set pieces arrive you’ve already been horrified to the max. The wrath of Satan seems pretty tame compared to the suffering that damaged family members can inflict on one another.

Go here to read more than 350 of my reviews of horror movies released theatrically in North America between 1988 and 2018.

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