“Hereditary”

 

            There are horror movies, and then there are those that make you wonder if you can turn out the lights when you go to sleep that night.  “Hereditary” is beyond creepy; it's downright bizarre, and features the kind of horrific events that genteel people just will not want to see.  This one is not for the faint of heart.

            It begins benignly enough:  Annie (Toni Collette) is mourning the recent death of her mother.  And like a lot of mourning, it's complicated.  She had an on-again off-again kind of relationship with her, which she's not at all afraid to admit at the microphone during the funeral service.  She characterizes her mother as a very private person, one who could be very stubborn at times, and not very affectionate.  What we soon realize is that Annie is just like her mother.

            She's married to Steve (Gabriel Byrne), who seems to be long-suffering in his patience with his virtriolic spouse.  We're never quite sure what he does, other than hang around the house in cardigans, sitting in his easy chair, reading, and occasionally cooking.  (Ward Cleaver in his dotage.) The house is eerily quiet and still most of the time---no television, no computers, no cell phones, nothing at all electronic, because, well, that would let in the “real” world, and spoil the eerie mood, enhanced by the atonal music.

            Annie and Steve have a son, Peter (Alex Wolff), who appears to be a typical high school student, in that he stares at girls in class, and looks to take the family car to a house party so he can smoke some weed with his friends.  The fact that his Mother makes him take his little sister along (“she could use the socializing”) represents only a theoretical wet blanket---he ignores her while she imbibes the mystery brownies.

            Annie, for her part, is usually at home working on her small-scale models.  She keeps getting these increasingly frantic calls from the gallery that's looking to display her next show, so she must be notably successful at this.  But what we see are miniature representations of the scenes from her own life.  And as her life takes some strange turns, so do her figurines.

            Annie tries one of those support groups, where you introduce yourself with first name only, and everybody says “Hi” to you at once, and then they all sit quietly while you tell these total strangers everything about your inner emotionality.  There's a particularly empathetic person in the group, Joan (Ann Dowd), who gives Annie her phone number and tells her to call any time.  Annie, wanting more than the typical support group's banal aphorisms, decides to visit Joan at her home, but that quickly gets weird, as Joan introduces the idea of a séance.

            Meanwhile, the pressure of family events causes the normally placid Steve to turn acerbic, and the normally well-adjusted Peter to suddenly become a moody loner.  We understand the emotional reaction to extreme stress and horrific grief, but even so we are still unprepared for Director and writer Ari Aster's climactic ending, a coronation of the ancient occult.

            It would be a great understatement to say that “Hereditary” is tough to watch.  Only the most adventurous moviegoers need avail their fragile emotions to this fearful horror tale fraught with the unexpectedly horrific.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association