Film Review: ‘Hereditary’ Scares But It’s Toni Collette’s Performance That Will Bring So Much Joy

With the scares and horror of such classics like “The Exorcist,” writer/director Ari Aster‘s brilliant debut “Hereditary” constructs a fascinating and chilling portrayal of darkness within ourselves.  Displaying top-notch performances from its cast, most notably Academy Award nominee Toni Collette and Alex Woolf, “Hereditary” is a polished, downright creepy event that will be hard to shake from your mind for quite some time.

“Hereditary,” tells the story of the Graham family whose matriarch passes away.  When the family begins to unravel cryptic and increasingly terrifying secrets about their ancestry, something much more sinister will reveal itself.

Aster’s sensibilities as a director are well versed as he explores the tension and mood of grief while staying true to the genre at hand.  He ignites a story of suspicion while not being afraid of being predictable, which at times the story may feel.  But that isn’t the point.  Aster’s chooses to focus on his characters’ reactions to the moments, lingering on their faces as they discover the truth about themselves.  Cinematographer Pawel Pogorzeklski gets much of the credit as his dark hue and almost motionless color palette just grips the viewer with fear and anxiety.  Pair that with Colin Stetson’s subtle yet vengeful score and you have one experience you won’t soon forget.

Looking back at the illustrious career of Toni Collette, you check off so many fantastic turns that have either gone underseen or undervalued for decades.  Think back to things like “Muriel’s Wedding,” “About a Boy,” and “In Her Shoes” for examples.  And while her large turns have gone noticed in some capacity such as “The Sixth Sense” and “Little Miss Sunshine,” this could very well be her very best performance of her career yet.  She lays into Annie, a woman of sorrow and grief.  I couldn’t help but go back to something that Scott Cooper once spoke about at the Middleburg Film Festival when speaking about his own actress Rosamund Pike, who starred in his film.  “The wail you hear from her is something you can’t fake.  It comes from somewhere deep within…”  Collette, who is a mother of 2, taps into her own experiences, echoing a new type of leading lady of horror while paying homage to women like Mia Farrow and Essie Davis, she has established her own lane.  It’s an utterly and completely worthy performance valued for Oscar consideration.

Woolf, who has been tip-toeing towards being on the hottest and exciting new stars on the planet, adds another notch to his belt and redefines emotions on a brand new level.  As Peter, Annie’s A-typical, pot-smoking kid looking to be cool, Woolf envigorates and snatches every bit of attention from the viewer.

The ensemble is very strong as Gabriel Byrne hawks back to his “End of Days” role while newcomer Milly Shapiro is striking as Charlie, as she adds herself to a long list of the creepiest kid performances in horror history.  The sensational Ann Dowd mesmerizes in her brief, important role.

The drip of scares is one of the film’s highest achievements.  Aster lingers, never too long, before unleashing his cinematic fury upon his audience.  “Hereditary” is destined to become a classic, but it shouldn’t just be regulated to the horror section of your Netflix queue.  It warrants its own merits as a thematically relevant and deeply moving motion picture that one would be really lucky to enjoy.  But simply put, that doesn’t discount it as one f*cked up movie that will have your jaws dropping and eyes closing.

“Hereditary” is currently in theaters and is distributed by A24.

GRADE: (★★★½)