Beginning with 2014’s terror double-whammy of “The Babadook” and “It Follows", the big-screen horror genre has been undergoing a thrilling transformation. The trend continued with 2015’s “The Witch” and 2018’s “Annihilation”. With the arrival of “Hereditary” (A24), it would appear that this new breed of horror is here to stay. Sure, there will always be more traditional scary movies such as 2017’s “It”, but this exciting new take on a classic variety of cinema is a welcome addition to the oeuvre.
The full-length feature debut by writer/director Ari Aster, Hereditaryopens with the obituary for miniature artist Annie’s (Toni Collette) mother Leigh. To say that Annie and her mother had a complicated relationship is an understatement. Describing her mother as secretive in her eulogy, Annie is unsure of how to confront her grief. Attending a bereavement group, she begins the process, while also exposing deep and private wounds, including that Leigh insisted on nursing Annie’s daughter Charlie (Broadway actress Milly Shapiro) when she was an infant.
Perhaps because of this unusual bond with her grandmother, adolescent Charlie takes the loss especially hard. Charlie is already known for her peculiar behavior (like her mother, she is a visual artist, making dolls from odd, spare parts and drawing in her sketchbook) and suffers from a series of health issues, exacerbated by her diet of candy and sweets. Peter (Alex Wolff), Charlie’s older brother, appears less affected by the death, but that could be because he numbs his pain with pot.
Annie’s husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) keeps a watchful eye on her and his children because, as we learn, his wife has a history of mental illness. Therefore, we might initially think that the heredity to which the title makes reference could have something to do with mental instability. Something that Annie may have run in her family, considering that her father and brother both killed themselves. Annie’s own struggles with being maternal (echoes of Jason Reitman’s “Tully”) also come into play.
But there’s far more to “Hereditary” than meets the eye. Following a party, to which Annie insists Peter bring his sister, Charlie has an allergic reaction to a piece of cake and, in his hurry to get her help, Peter ends up doing something far worse. An encounter with Joan (Ann Dowd), a woman in the grief support group, leads Annie down an unexpectedly dark and horrific path. Even with all of the flaming red herrings, you still might not see the end, with its echoes of “Rosemary’s Baby” coming.
“Hereditary” is the kind of movie that might actually make you grateful for your own family, warts and all. Rating: B+