Lately there seems to be an influx of filmmakers turning out such accomplished horror films as their directorial debut film whether it be Jennifer Kent with The Babadook, Robert Eggers with The Witch, or Jordan Peele with Get Out. This year presents us the feature film debut of Ari Aster, who is perhaps most well-known for his short film The Strange Thing About the Johnsons. Returning back to dark material about familial problems, he brings us the supernatural horror film Hereditary and only presents what is truly a promising start to an exciting voice to look out for in the future, for among the many great horror films that we have been lucky enough to witness in this day and age here is yet another addition to the pile. But so often are films like such marketed as “the scariest film since The Exorcist” and to that, I can’t say I agree, yet looking at the film for what it strives for on its own terms I can’t help but say that I was taken in by what truly was a deeply unsettling experience.
This is a film telling the story of a family that shows itself to be any ordinary one, consisting of a mother (Toni Collette), a father (Gabriel Byrne), a son (Alex Wolff), and a daughter (Milly Shapiro). The grandmother has passed away, but not without leaving a curse behind on the remaining family members – for she lived a live in recluse, one that may have ended up involving the Leigh family’s ancestry. In telling a story about a seemingly normal family’s own demons, what Ari Aster captures in Hereditary tells a tale of grief that only makes that lingering feeling something to which you fear, and it almost brought back memories of Don’t Look Now for myself. It brought back such memories because said film also covered the concept of grief and its haunting effect upon those who are already suffering, and in Hereditary you already have the idea that everything runs in the family that only turns out a far more haunting experience.
In talking about the most effective moments of Hereditary you already have the film set up a perfect atmosphere right from the setting alone, in which everything shows itself to be so ordinary – and thus it’s still susceptible to being the home to a greater danger. You already feel the presence of danger in the fact that everything is presented to you as being ordinary. You feel as if you’re there, a part of the family, as they know awful things are happening to them at every corner. But it’s not those “awful things” that end up making you feel terrified of them, it’s just the fact that Ari Aster only had ever managed to assert its presence before it comes right for you, and then it makes its jump. You already know that feeling from right under your skin, but it never makes the jump – it just continually follows you so that an image is set in your mind. And suddenly the film makes its mark when something worse comes by, it’s there we already see what is truly effective horror working its way into our heads.
When talking about how Hereditary makes you so uncomfortable with the familiarity of the setting, what catches me about the way it is directed and performed is the fact that it isn’t ever really directed like a horror film and more like a suburban drama about the family. Perhaps it could be one degree to which the film only finds itself highlighting melodrama, although if there’s anything that can be said about what it brought out from its cast, we have excellent performances all across the board. Toni Collette is fantastic as she’s always been, as a troubled mother trying to cope with the grief her own family has left her with. As noted earlier in the fact that the film makes a case for how ordinary it shows everything to be, Aster still abides by that in order to suspend your own beliefs in order to accept everything is absurd as it can get, because of the unstable lens in which the story is being told – it already knows you’ll feel ruined so quickly and never lets go.
I haven’t seen a horror movie much like this in quite some time but I’m astonished that something like this is only a debut effort. What Ari Aster has created from Hereditary is the work of a master, for he is not afraid to show his own influences from them (many will note down nods to Rosemary’s Baby being rather frequent in here) and he has also quite clearly learned the very best. If anything else can really be said, what’s always exciting is to see a new voice in the horror genre creating something of this sort for a debut effort because you already recognize the very best of the sort when a product so affecting is at play. One will tell themselves that this is a film about an unstable family trying to come to terms with the awful things happening around them, but as you remember how ordinary this can be, suddenly it comes right back in order to bite you when you least expect it.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via A24.
Directed by Ari Aster
Screenplay by Ari Aster
Produced by Kevin Frakes, Lars Knudsen, Buddy Patrick
Starring Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd, Gabriel Byrne
Release Year: 2018
Running Time: 127 minutes