Artful, twisted, and scary as hell, the indie horror film Hereditary is designed to mess you up. You won't find the pleasant chills of the ghost story or the cathartic thrills of the slasher. Instead, the film trades in real human anxieties, hideously disturbing images, and the occasional headless cultist. It's a lot of fun.
Toni Collette plays Annie Graham, an emotionally fragile gallery artist who specializes in meticulously assembled miniatures. Annie's cruel, creepy mother has just died from dementia, and her little girl, Charlie, has started to make miniatures of her own—with dead animal parts. Meanwhile, Annie's relationship with her teenage son Peter is a bit strained ever since that night when she kinda-sorta tried to kill him.
Yes, the Grahams are a troubled lot. The sinister strategy of Hereditary is to dig deep into the festering wounds of one family's dysfunction—grief, guilt, resentment, and neglect—and then turn the emotional violence into both physical and metaphysical trauma.
Director Ari Aster conjures echoes of classic familial horror films of the past, such as The Shining, Rosemary's Baby, and Carrie. But then he confounds expectations with a series of bold narratives swerves concerning the Graham family ancestry.
Collette is simply brilliant in the lead. She really should be officially funded, like a national monument. And Broadway child actor Milly Shapiro does new things with the standard Spooky Little Girl role. But the real star is Aster, who has delivered an extremely disturbing yet carefully controlled art-house horror show.
Despite some unfortunate choices in the closing scenes, Hereditary largely transcends its disreputable genre. In fact, it fits better into the older literary tradition known as weird fiction, which often uses supernatural elements to explore all-too-real human themes and fears. This is the best horror film of the year so far.