With horror, you often buy a ticket for the ride, not the destination. With Hereditary, director Ari Aster cranks up the suspense, ensuring the convoluted plot can’t be properly deciphered until the helpfully explanatory final scene. This is really what you expect in a film of this ilk but I often feel a sense of disappointment when the climax doesn’t live up to the drama and thrills of the journey.
Hereditary has all the hallmarks of an enjoyably scary ride. Annie (Toni Collette) lives with her gentle husband Stephen (Gabriel Byrne), slacker teenage son Peter (Alex Wolff) and misfit daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) in a large and isolated house. Annie’s mother Ellen has just died, something we discover she is ambivalent about; they have been estranged and her mother was a controlling and powerful presence in her life.
Annie is an artist who makes miniature houses and scenes from her life, and much is made of the juxtaposition between the real and the created, between facts and memories. We see little hints of the supernatural; Annie and Charlie see manifestations of Annie’s mother, odd symbols and words appear on walls and there is a sense that Charlie is not quite in the same world as those around her. It is Annie’s brittle state though that is the focus and Collette does an astounding job at making her believable, at maintaining our empathy even when she’s not particularly likeable.
The pervasive eeriness of the house and our understanding that something is not right, even when the characters are oblivious of the danger, keeps the tension wire-tight with very few lulls in pace. There are some decent jump scares and none seem gratuitous. Some of the secondary characters are more important than they at first seem and Wolff does a good job portraying Peter’s teenage angst and bewilderment.
The final scene is somewhat satisfying, but the lessening of pace and mystery and the need to explain it all, both visually and verbally, feels anticlimactic. A decent ride though.
Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.