HEREDITARY: Family Tragedy & Occult Nightmares

The Horror genre has undergone something of a renaissance in the last few years.

Thanks to a number of talented auteurs, industrious producers and questionably motivated money-men, what once was a genre that was solely associated with schlock and gore has now been elevated to something much more cerebral. Of course, the blood spattered exploitation movies are still there, leering from the corner of the room daring you to no be disgusted with the buckets of gore that it throws at its hapless C-list actors. In fact, every movie trend (and horror is a genre that is so often typified by trends) has somehow managed to hold onto dear life, mostly due to their affordability because whilst the films themselves might not always appeal to mainstream audiences, they nonetheless offer a curious investors the chance to turn a quick buck at relatively little expense to themselves.

The best horror films have always been low-budget affairs, relying on atmosphere and suspense to deliver their payoffs rather than eye-popping visual effects and Hereditary certainly plays to those strengths, whilst also providing enough horror-house shocks and genuinely terrifying moments that will leave even die-hard aficionados a little disturbed. As the title suggests, this is a film about family, but it’s also a film about grief, mental illness and how the shortcomings, or strange proclivities of our parents can lead to us inheriting more than just their genes.

The wonderful Toni Collette brings her highly emotional A-game as not-so bereaved mother of two, Annie, who is surprised to find herself unmoved by the death of her mother. Her own daughter, Charlie (played by an unnerving Milly Shapiro) is similarly emotionless, despite supposedly having a close relationship with her grandmother. Perhaps it’s unsurprising then that the family, rounded out by Gabriel Byrne (solid as ever in a rather thankless role of confused Father) and Alex Wolff, are hardly the Brady Bunch. Annie creates miniature models of traumatic memories, Charlie has a macabre workshop of her own and Peter is a habitual weed smoker.

You’d be right to start thinking that Hereditary is more family drama than horror flick, in fact the film is far more effective when exposing the grim realities of Annie’s damaged childhood rather than drumming up more familiar genre chills. First-time director Ari Aster has an assure hand throughout, framing the Graham’s home in wide static shots that echo the doll’s house that Annie works over; he never relies on cheap scares and he handles the small cast well, but the film struggles to balance it’s effectively told family politics with the pseudo-supernatural horror that the picture devolves into.

‘Devolves’ is definitely right the word, as Hereditary certainly feels more chilling in its first half; when enough hints are dropped by the end of the second act even non-aficionados of the genre will see the trajectory of the Graham family and, ultimately, the film, which is a shame because the film does so well to avoid cliches up to this point. As it is, Collette’s full-bore performance and Aster’s camerawork will no doubt please Arthouse fans, whilst leaving casual moviegoers bemused and perhaps even bored.