Film review: Hereditary is a stylish, enthralling and disturbing horror
“A new generation’s The Exorcist” reads just one of the glowing endorsements that adorn the poster for Ari Aster’s directorial debut.
It is a bold comparison, particularly for a genre that is littered with countless weak imitations (the Paranormal Activity franchise) of William Friedkin’s classic and has only seen a few (The Witch, It Comes At Night) in recent memory that come close to capturing the terror of that film. While time will tell if Hereditary retains the power of its forebear it is a petrifying and stunningly assured first feature.
The film focuses on the Graham family – Annie (Toni Colette), Steve (Gabriel Byrne), Peter (Alex Wolff) and Charlie (Milly Shapiro) - who, following the death of Annie’s mother, are haunted by tragic and terrifying occurrences.
The true horror of Hereditary stems from its creeping sense of dread. Together with Pawel Pogorzelski ‘s dizzying cinematography and Colin Stetson’s pulsating score Aster makes something as innocuous as Annie’s intricate dioramas unsettling and sinister, making the few jump-scares Aster chooses to dispense all the more upsetting. A late-night rush to hospital ends in a particularly distressing manner.
All is held together by a quartet of mesmerising performances. Shapiro evokes both sympathy and unease, Wolff impressively manages Peter’s transformation from sullen teenager to screaming mess of nerves and Colette and Byrne captivate as the increasingly unhinged and unsympathetic mother and the affable father trying, but failing, to keep things from falling apart.