HEREDITARY. (2018) WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY ARI ASTER. STARRING TONI COLLETTE, GABRIEL BYRNE, ALEX WOLFF, MILLY SHAPIRO AND ANN DOWD.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
‘It’s a neutral view of the accident…!’
Often, my first experience of a film that’s been released in the cinema to great acclaim is to watch it when the DVD comes out and everyone’s moved onto something else. That’s because, being a writer, I genuinely don’t get out much. Always slaving away at my desk trying to leave something worthwhile behind for humanity, lol.
Anyway, this is one film I bloody wish I’d seen on the big screen. Every second I spent watching the DVD was electrifying, it’s that good. Watching it unfold scene by scene at the cinema for the first time ever must have been a fantastic experience, not the kind you’re likely to forget any time soon.
HEREDITARY stars Toni Collette (MURIEL’S WEDDING, ABOUT A BOY, IMPERIUM), an actress who just seems to be getting better and better as she grows older. She steals the show completely in this film. She’s an absolute powerhouse in it. She plays Annie Graham, an artist, wife and mother who, when we meet her first, is getting ready to bury her mother.
It’s possibly most difficult to bury the mothers with whom we didn’t get along and with whom we have a troubled history, because there’s so much guilt involved, terrible, terrible guilt that makes for very heavy carrying. The ones we loved and were loved by, well, those deaths are bad enough to cope with, but anything more complicated, fuhgeddaboutit.
Annie is having trouble coping with her mother Ellen’s death, because they only seemed to get on intermittently and there’s a long complex back-story there. Annie even goes to a bereavement group that meets in town to see if it’s any help to her.
I think she shocks the group with how much detail she goes into about exactly how troubled her family history is. You can almost hear the group facilitator saying: ‘Well, it’s usually enough just to say your name, dear, and that you’re a wee bit sad…!’
Annie is married to Steve, played by Gabriel Byrne. (I know he’s Irish, like me, but I’ve never liked him. Too mopey and unsmilingly craggy-faced!) They’re obviously well-off and have a fabulous big house in the middle of an isolated forested area (the film was shot in Utah).
I’m not sure what Dad does (just Googled it, he’s a psychiatrist! Gabriel Byrne with his mopey unsmilingly craggy face would be perfect at playing a shrink, sitting for hours saying nothing with his legs crossed, bored, fiddling with his pen and polishing his specs, lol.), but Mom is a marvellous artist who works in miniatures and has exhibitions of her work and everything.
She creates the most amazing doll-houses and artistic installations featuring tiny people in various exquisitely-realised scenarios. Some of the scenes in the film actually make us feel like we’re looking at tiny little doll-people in a tiny little doll-house. It’s so cleverly done.
Anyway, Mom and Dad are no longer close after x amount of years together, married and bringing up children. Relationship-wise, they’re just going through the motions now. It happens, unfortunately, after that much time together. Familiarity breeds contempt and all that.
Peter, their teenager, is introverted, with not much to say for himself. He’s more interested in experimenting with drugs and trying to get girls to notice him than in interacting with his family. He’s absolutely your typical teenager. Annie in particular feels like every time she talks to him, she gets a sneer back and a rude back-answer. Again, par for the course with teenage boys. And girls…!
The Grahams also have a thirteen-year-old daughter, Charlie, who appears to be autistic or otherwise differently-abled, although we’re not sure because it’s not mentioned. Either way, she’s an odd little girl. I mean, is it normal for little girls to calmly cut the heads off dead birds with scissors, or to see their dead grandmothers sitting on the grass surrounded by a bank of flames and not turn a hair?
I’ll probably be lynched for being crass enough to notice this, but the film-makers have actually gone out of their way to make the little girl an ugly figure of menace, with strange unsettling facial features and a dumpy build that reminds one of the evil dwarf in the red duffel coat from Nicolas Roeg’s DON’T LOOK NOW. Like, don’t tell me that they didn’t have this film in the back of their minds when they were creating the look for the little girl…!
When Annie urges Peter to take an unwilling Charlie to a school party one night, in an attempt to socialise a child who clearly resents her efforts, an event occurs that might just be the most shockingly unexpected thing you’ve ever seen in a horror film. I mean, if Annie thought she was sad before, well, this is grief the like of which she didn’t even know existed. The family is in crisis. Joan from the bereavement group makes a timely entrance…
I was gripped by this film for the whole one hundred and twenty-two minutes of its duration. (The standard ninety minutes wouldn’t have been sufficient for this meaty horror plot.) Things start to happen fairly quickly after the night of the party and Toni Collette positively acts up a storm. The viewers begin to wonder exactly what the creepy old Grandma Ellen’s deal was in life, and in what way it’s possibly impacting on the Graham family now.
The scares come thick and fast, but not the flashy every-ten-seconds jump-scare-for-the-sake-of-it thing you’re probably familiar with from other modern horror movies. (James Wan, I do love you and keep making those brilliant CONJURING and ANNABELLE movies but I’m looking right at you, lol.) I’m not telling you guys too much for fear of spoilers, though. The film really is too good for that.
I kept being shocked at the plot twists and the freakish occurrences but in a really good way, and in such a way that I didn’t want the film to ever end. And I loved the way the plot moulded itself into one of my favourite horror movie themes in the end. I wasn’t disappointed with the climax, just stunned, and I feel like if I go back and watch the film again, certain things will now make more sense. Verdict? Top-notch stuff. Watch it, before it watches you…!
(PS, down the line, certain people might have to come to terms with the fact that a child’s treehouse may not be, shall we say, the most dignified location for meetings and gatherings of such magnitude, but any port in a storm, as we say.
After all, the Pope doesn’t hold his conclave thingies behind the wheel of the bumper cars at the local funfair, does he, and Donald Trump, the most powerful man on the planet because he’s the boss of the United States of America, wouldn’t be seen dead inviting his fellow politicians to vote on a Very Important Matter while enjoying some time on a bouncy castle on the grass verge out the back of the Whitehouse? Well, actually, as to that last one, I don’t know. I guess anything’s possible…!)
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
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