Hereditary (dir, Ari Aster, 2018)
I love Toni Colette's performances for their grace and subtlety (Emma) and laugh out loud humour (Muriel's Wedding), so when my daughter mentioned that she had also starred in a horror movie I was in for that reason alone.
As we got into Hereditary, I realised that there were many other reasons for me to appreciate this superb movie, only some of which were hormonally related to Gabriel Byrne's presence in the cast list.
Annie Graham (Colette) is an artist trying to outrun her genetic inheritance. Her relationship with her mother was strained to say the least, as her plain-speaking eulogy at the funeral lays brutally bare. Just as Annie is getting in touch with her feelings of anger and betrayal towards her mother, her thirteen-year-old daughter Charlie is killed in a bizarre road accident, decapitated when leaning out of the car window.
This would be enough to challenge any parent, but her sixteen-year-old son Peter was driving at the time, leaving Annie struggling to work through her feelings towards her surviving child.
Annie tries to keep going by throwing herself into her work, which isn't of itself a bad idea when facing a terrible bereavement, especially when that work is creative and healing. I even felt positively when she tries to make sense of the inconceivably awful by using her artistic skill to build a small model of the accident scene where her daughter died. Her husband (Gabriel Byrne) is less sympathetic, however.
All of the emotional upheaval and tension leaves Annie vulnerable, and she is secretly approached by Joan, a member of her mother's devil-worshipping cult operating under the guise of a harmless fellow member of Annie's grief support group. Matters unravel pretty swiftly from there.
Hereditary's cinematography was very striking. That and the strong character acting were the films main strengths. The story is set in Utah, and the locations there were stunningly beautiful. The huge log-cabin family home was initially a safe haven for each of the characters but turned into a brooding, sometimes sinister presence on the edge of the woods as the action unfolded.
Toni Colette's performance was amazing. She is a very versatile actress. Here she was both terrifyingly dark and strange, but simultaneously sympathetic and vulnerable. The backstory concerning her past issues with anger and violence was deeply unsettling, but it informed the sinister side of Annie's character and was an essential part of making this horror movie a subtle psychological thriller.
There were times when I truly didn't know whether Annie was an insane danger to her son or the only sensible adult left in the home. It was a performance of true genius from Toni Colette. I've always had a 'hot under the collar' thing for Gabriel Byrne so any film or show that stars him tends to engross my full attention for all the wrong reasons. File under guilty pleasure.
The plot of Hereditary developed in quite an unexpected direction until suddenly the inheritance the viewer dreaded emerging for Annie in the form of mental instability was far from the most immediate cause for concern. Something much more appallingly evil was emerging about her mother's behaviour as a devil worshipper. This leaves the question of which family member it will ensnare next. I liked this late on twist: it really worked for me.
Hereditary is one of the best films I've seen in such a long time. That it was recommended by my daughter, who's now in college studying film directing, was a wonderful bonus.
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If you fancy something different, you might like to take a chance on my review of The Forge in the Forest by Michael Scott Rohan here.