Every generation has what we’ll call its “horror moment”. The moment it realises that you can extract something of quality and artistic value from a canon that has been run into the ground by stale tropes and gratuitous shock tactics. For a while, it seemed as though our moment would be yielded by Insidious or something else by James Wan, but in his feature film debut, writer-director Ari Aster has ambushed our expectations and come out of nowhere to produce one of the most joyously twisted and disturbing movies in recent memory.
Annie Graham – played by the incomparable Toni Collette – is a married mother-of-two who has recently lost her own mother, Ellen, with whom she had a particularly fraught relationship and about whom she never knew too much. Ellen did have a close relationship with Annie’s teenage daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) and the effects of this closeness soon become terrifyingly clear.
Charlie is perennially dishevelled, sketches sinister portraits of people without their consent and can be heard making clicking sounds with her mouth even in the quietest of moments. About a quarter of the way through the feature something happens to the teenager, and the family soon realise they have much more to deal with than the loss of an estranged matriarch.
Hereditary is a genre-defying cinematic achievement. It begins as a sinisterly slow-burning family drama that explores the devastation of inherited trauma and mental illness, and morphs into a full-blown supernatural horror riddled with bloody imagery, demonic contortions and flagrant gore.
This unlikely transition is achieved successfully thanks to – for the most part – a revelatory central performance from Collette, who is already being tipped for Oscar success next year. The Australian actress has used the extreme nature of the genre to her advantage and gifted us with a horrifically truthful meditation on the ugly side of the mother-child bond, the consuming nature of grief and the distortive effect that past pain has upon the present psyche.
Despite the inevitable scares and screams and its demonic influences, at its core Hereditary is a very human story. Aster uses the horror genre as a mere tool to create an almost allegorical masterpiece that portrays a universal struggle to prevent the past from destroying the present.
Hereditary is released nationwide on 15th June 2018.
Watch the trailer for Hereditary here: