Ari Aster's occult tale centred on a family in mourning is artfully visualised but let down by its farcical conclusion [contains spoilers]

Film Review by Kelli Weston | 07 Jun 2018
  • Hereditary
Film title: Hereditary
Director: Ari Aster
Starring: Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd, Gabriel Byrne
Release date: 15 Jun
Certificate: 15

Following a string of successful shorts, Ari Aster makes his feature debut with Hereditary, an artfully visualised tale of grief and all it destroys in its mire. The film feels especially appropriate in this era’s domestic horror renaissance, for like The Babadook (2014), It Comes at Night (2017) and A Quiet Place (2018) before it, Hereditary steeps its anxieties, chillingly, in the most familiar of units: the family.

The film opens with the obituary of the Graham family matriarch. At the funeral, her daughter Annie (Collette) grasps clumsily for the words to eulogise her mother, with whom she endured a fraught relationship.

That dynamic has clearly infected the way Annie relates to her own children: Peter (Wolff), a sullenly handsome pothead, and the laconic Charlie (Shapiro), who's given to unsettling stares and clucking noises and driven by eerie apparitions. Despite her husband Steve’s (Byrne) initial support, Annie’s marriage, too, grows increasingly strained, and soon the family is dealt another blow, so devastating it shatters any hope they might have of returning to some semblance of normalcy.

Perhaps no genre is so well-suited as horror to articulating grief, with its hauntings and proximity to death, and Hereditary is at its best when exploring the impact of loss. But a late, jarring jump in mythos, when it's revealed Peter is the film's true victim, undermines the solid first two acts. On the one hand, in a genre saturated with violated or otherwise mutilated female bodies, positioning a man as prey seems refreshing. On the other, Hereditary is an occult tale – with apt nods to predecessors Rosemary’s Baby (1968), Suspiria (1977), and even The Skeleton Key (2005) – masked as a ghost story, and the former sub-genre, having largely to do with witches and women, has long possessed currency in feminist discourse. Hereditary’s farcical conclusion breaks with its tone, but more importantly feels antithetical to that history and a promising premise. [Kelli Weston]

Released by Entertainment Film