Yet another masterful horror film flexes enormous confidence in its telling, allowing its actors to shine.



The family way: Milly Shapiro, Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne and Alex Wolff


We’ve had the golden age of the Hollywood musical, the nouvelle vague from France and the domination of world cinema by Iran. Now we’re living in the midst of a renaissance of the horror film. And Ari Aster’s debut feature, Hereditary, really doesn’t help. Aster brings a hugely original voice to the table, where he exploits the talent of his actors to scare the bejesus out of us – rather than providing the stock jump-scares of the traditional chiller. And if Daniel Kaluuya can snare an Oscar nomination for Get Out, then Toni Collette can certainly do so for her display of thespian hysteria here.


It all starts so damned quietly. Besides A Quiet Place, this has to register as the most silent horror film we’ve been subjected to. Likewise, the apparitions Aster conjures up are so peripheral as to be subliminal. And therein lies our unease.


Aster exhibits a command of his medium from the start. His opening shot is of a large studio space crammed with dollhouse-like rooms, the work of the miniaturist artist Annie Graham (Collette). In a steady, gradual zoom, we are led into the model bedroom of Peter Graham (Alex Wolff), when his father (Gabriel Byrne) walks in. Immediately, Aster has established a domain between make-believe and reality and the film remains entirely in the everyday yet one remove from the normal. His art is to keep back information from the viewer, in direct contrast to most films that blind us with superfluous exposition. Aster trusts implicitly in the patience of his audience, and rewards us with finely tuned performances from his players, who play it real all down the line. The result is a naturalistic scenario with discreetly withheld – and vital – clues to where we are and who the characters are. What does Gabriel Byrne’s Steve Graham do for a living, how can his family afford such a vast house and, for that matter, where the hell are we?


If the film doesn’t terrify to the same degree as A Quiet Place, it certainly has its own box of tricks. It is arguably too long and at times it is perversely unhurried, but it uses these weaknesses as a virtue: like an endless dream one can’t wake up from. The effect is the occasional shock, but the scariest bits are perpetrated by the cast. We are in the very skins of these characters so that when they suddenly see something truly unseeable – beyond the edges of the screen – our imaginations are left to jump and squirm. Beyond the weight of supernatural dread, there is something perhaps even more unsettling: the destruction of the family dynamic. It has been said that 97% of families are dysfunctional, so the disintegration of the status quo here should be recognised by most viewers (at least those who have experienced family life). And nobody can do a meltdown like Toni Collette. But even as you fear her, you feel for her. When the film does, finally, descend into the familiar territory of the supernatural, Aster makes sure we follow his path to Hell with his hands firmly around our throats.




Cast: Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd, Gabriel Byrne, Mallory Bechtel.


Dir Ari Aster, Pro Kevin Frakes, Lars Knudsen and Buddy Patrick, Screenplay Ari Aster, Ph Pawel Pogorzelski, Pro Des Grace Yun, Ed Lucian Johnston and Jennifer Lame, Music Colin Stetson, Costumes Olga Mill.


PalmStar Media/Finch Entertainment/Windy Hill Pictures-Entertainment Film Distributors.

127 mins. USA. 2018. Rel: 15 June 2018. Cert. 15.