Film: Hereditary

In the wake of the riveting Midsommar, I decided to bounce back to director Ari Aster’s previous film, Hereditary (2018). It’s fair to say after watching these two films that—yeah, well, duh, Aster has a hell of a career ahead of him. Midsommar is perhaps the more interesting film, but Hereditary is masterfully executed horror, a more visceral and unnerving experience.

Like Midsommar, Hereditary deals with the after-effects of grief and the trials of mental illness. As it opens, the Grahams—artist Annie (Toni Collette), her husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), and their two children Peter (Alex Wolff) and Charlie (Milly Shapiro)—are coping with the death of Annie’s mother. When their grief is compounded by further tragedy, a skeptical Annie seeks solace from a local support group, where she finds a fast friend in kindly Joan (Ann Dowd). But she quickly begins to regret her efforts to find closure, which in fact open the door to even more unsettling events for Annie and her family.

Featuring convincingly emotional performances from the cast (especially Collette and Wolff), Hereditary is a chilling, dark psychological horror film that manages to encircle its solid metaphorical core with a creepy surface logic to its story. One can appreciate it for the creepy atmosphere, shocking jump-scares, and subtly built sense of menace around its occult backdrop, or muse on its examination of grief, regret, and the all-consuming battles of mental illness, as inner demons manifest in disturbing external ways. Or one can do both, of course, which makes this both a wracking physical experience and a thought-provoking mental one. Horror films don’t get much more satisfying than this.

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