HEREDITARY

 

THREE-AND-A-HALF STARS

 

DIRECTOR: Ari Aster

STARRING: Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro

RUNNING TIME: MA15+

VERDICT: Evolutionary horror

 

THIS creepy supernatural thriller unbalances moviegoers from the opening credit sequence - in which a cross cut model of a doll's house slowly comes to life.

And director Ari Aster, who exhibits extraordinary assurance for a first-time filmmaker, never lets his audience regain their footing.

Hereditary unfolds in a kind of alternative dimension, a creepy, dreamlike space somewhere between simulacrum and reality.

It's hard to get one's bearings.

Annie Graham's (Toni Collette) dioramas - the troubled artist painstakingly recreates her life in miniature - compound the problem.

Toni Collette and Milly Shapiro in a scene from the movie Hereditary.
Toni Collette and Milly Shapiro in a scene from the movie Hereditary. Supplied

The issues are those of scale and perspective, on both a literal and a metaphorical/metaphysical level.

Charlie (Milly Shapiro), the youngest member of the Graham family, is the problem child. A strange, intense, disturbed and disturbing little creature, she would rather fashion small voodoo dolls out of dead animal body parts than engage with other children her age. But as the family fractures under the weight of a series of horrific events, Annie, too, exhibits signs of aberrant behaviour.

Could she be the real demon in this story?

The narrative alludes to post-natal depression but also something darker and more sinister.

As Annie's tragic backstory emerges, the ground shifts until, like her extraordinarily patient husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), we too begin to question her motives.

This is no ordinary family...
This is no ordinary family...

Collette moves so seamlessly between the states of careworn protector, traumatised victim and maternal monster, her character in United States of Tara, by comparison, seems well-adjusted.

Son Peter (Alex Wolff) is increasingly terrified - not least because he seems to be the target of Annie's increasingly malevolent alter ego.

Hereditary sets its discordant tone from the opening sequence, in which the Graham family attends the funeral of Annie's mother.

In a surprisingly candid eulogy, Annie acknowledges the depth of the pair's emotional estrangement, but the woman has a strange hold on her, even after her death.

There might also be more to the warm, caring fellow sufferer Annie meets at a grief support group (Ann Dowd) than initially meets the eye.

Collette plays troubled artist Annie Graham.
Collette plays troubled artist Annie Graham.

Aster charts this increasingly dysfunctional family's descent into hell without blinking.

He manipulates his audience with as much skill and dexterity as Annie displays in creating her everyday dolls houses, an original, contemporary, evocative twist on the classic Victorian horror trope.

The director sustains the tension right up until the final act - which requires moviegoers to make an extreme leap of faith with him into the occult.

Advance word on this film - which is already being touted as an Oscar possibility in the wake of last year's horror game changer, Get Out - would suggest that hasn't been a problem for most people.

This critic, however, was left stranded on the opposite shore.

Opens Thursday


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