Starring: Toni Collette, Milly Shapiro, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff
Director: Ari Aster
When her mother dies, Annie (Collette) is still struggling with her past and their complicated relationship. As things start to unravel and go wrong in her family life, Annie will discover that there’s a dark secret at the heart of her family.
I don’t want to say too much about the plot of the film. Hereditary is a film that’s nice to just surrender to and watch. Annie is a miniaturist, and her dolls houses and rooms are echoed in the set, which looks like a dolls house. If they live in the dolls house, who are they the playthings of? It’s a nice touch, and one that makes you feel uneasy. The home does not tell us exactly who these people are. It feels like life is an uneasy facade here.
The characters are all a bit odd. Toni Collette is given a lot to do. Perhaps too much. I’m not sure I believe entirely that she could be so unaware of her family secrets, but I love the way she takes the character into hysterical fear and grief. She works hard in this film. Opposite her is Gabriel Byrne as her husband, who is drastically underwritten. He barely reacts to anything ever. She feels and he endures. Their children are also well cast. I enjoy Alex Wolff in films. He’s often an interesting character, complex and vulnerable. Meanwhile, I loved newcomer Milly Shapiro as their daughter Charlie. She’s at times charming and others odd.
It’s a film that builds slowly and doesn’t linger over it’s clues. It’s not a fast film, and perhaps it could have been trimmed a little here and there, but it works. Sometimes the emotions feel hysterical and large, it’s a film with a lot of drama. Sometimes you’ll be left wondering how and why. Like, why isn’t the son arrested at a certain point? Why does the husband never react? How has Annie been so crazy this whole time? I feel like in a lot of ways, this film wants to be like Rosemary’s Baby and Don’t Look Now, films where they are like a thriller, a drama, but the conflict is around whether something is supernatural or not, questions about what is real. It’s a film that’s only semi-successful at this. The ending feels like it’s big, and a bit heavy handed. It lacks the subtlety of those films, that solid grounding in the every day.
It has it’s flaws, but it’s an eerie film, full of twists and high emotions, and darkness. It’s an enjoyable watch, with some intense performances that would be laughable in the hands of lesser actors. Often shocking, it’s never predictable. But perhaps not a horror on the level of the films it would like to emulate.
See It If: you thought your family relationships were dysfunctional. Toni Collette is amazing, and the twists and turns are fascinating, even if the whole is a little hysterical.