Sundance 2018: Ari Aster’s Hereditary

On Film / The Daily — Jan 25, 2018

“I don’t scare easily,” begins A. A. Dowd at the A.V. Club. “So it’s a special kind of awful, a rare treat of sorts, when something comes along that actually gets past my defenses, that does more than make me jolt upright in my seat occasionally or instill with me a vague, temporary unease.” That’s now happened “during the second public screening of Ari Aster’s blood-curdling Hereditary, most of which I spent in a state of deep distress, palms soaked, breath shallow. This isn’t a scary movie. It’s pure emotional terrorism, gripping you with real horror, the unspeakable kind, and then imbuing the supernatural stuff with those feelings. It didn’t play me like a fiddle. It slammed on my insides like a grand piano.”

“A harrowing story of unthinkable family tragedy that veers into the realm of the supernatural, Hereditary takes its place as a new generation’s The Exorcist,” announces Time Out’s Joshua Rothkopf, adding that “for some, it will spin heads even more savagely. As with so much inspired horror, from Rosemary’s Baby to 2014’s psychologically acute The Babadook, the movie gets its breath and a palpable sense of unraveling identity from a fearless female performance, this time by Toni Collette, the revered Australian actor capable of sustained fits of mania.”

Hereditary may be the most exciting movie I’ve seen at Sundance this year,” declares Variety’s Owen Gleiberman. It’s got “the substance to match its scares. It gets at something sophisticated: the way that mental and emotional damage becomes part of a family’s spirit, and is therefore passed on as if it were . . . a spirit. Wherever you stand on the subject of paranormal activity, this is a drama attuned to the ghosts of parent-child communion that live in all of us.”

Horror “is a genre that is going to expose who’s got ‘it,’ and who doesn’t,” writes Scott Renshaw in the Salt Lake City Weekly, and “Aster absolutely has ‘it’ . . . This is simply one creepy-ass piece of filmmaking, as Aster shows off an exquisite sense of where to put the camera so that an ominous glint of red light reflects in someone’s eye, or something unspeakable lurks in a dark corner of the frame. And he’s savvy enough at how to set up his narrative and his sound design so that a seemingly innocuous sound like a clucked tongue becomes a harbinger of doom.”

“The movie opens with an obit for seventy—eight-year-old Ellen Taper Leigh, and to say that Grandma doesn’t exactly rest in peace is an epic understatement,” writes David Rooney in the Hollywood Reporter. “But Hereditary takes the core haunting element of a spirit with a malevolent agenda and runs with it in a seemingly endless series of unexpected directions over two breathless hours of escalating terror that never slackens for a minute.”

“At its center, Annie (a terrifically unhinged Toni Collette) copes with her mother’s death by throwing herself into building a series of intricate miniatures in her large, creaky home,” writes IndieWire’s Eric Kohn. “Her distracted husband (Gabriel Byrne) mostly keeps to himself, while her teenage son Peter (Alex Wolff) sulks on the sidelines, and his spooky younger sister Charlie (Milly Shaprio, who won a Tony for Matilda on Broadway) lurks around saying little. Just when it seems like Hereditary is entering traditional creepy-kid territory with Charlie giving off serious The Omen vibes, the movie takes an abrupt, violent twist that further the complicates the family’s dark moment.”

“Although Colin Stetson’s brooding score hints early on that we’re watching a horror film, Hereditary takes its time before unveiling anything that would traditionally be considered ‘terrifying,’” writes Screen’s Tim Grierson. “By establishing the family dynamics first, Hereditary can then go about introducing a series of unsettling and ultimately devastating twists. . . . Remarkably, Aster and cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski sustain the film’s clammy mood for two hours, resisting the urge to offer easy scares or gross-out gore to jolt the audience. It would be accurate to describe Hereditary as a deft character drama that happens to have significant horror elements, which is not to undersell how consistently disquieting this film is.”

Updates, 1/26: “As is true of lots (most?) of Sundance hype,” writes Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson, “the chatter about Hereditary was perhaps a little overblown. Even as a scaredy-cat, I have seen scarier movies—the miserable The Descent comes immediately to mind. Writer-director Ari Aster, making a promising feature debut, has created plenty of forbidding atmosphere; there’s almost no shot in the film that isn’t filled with creeping dread. But Hereditary ultimately engages on a more emotional and intellectual register than it does on the visceral.”

The Babadook and It Comes at Night comparisons will undeniably be made,” writes Brian Tallerico at RogerEbert.com, “but Aster is actually recalling the more European styles of Roman Polanski and Dario Argento, men unafraid to work in more symbolic, nightmarish registers than what audiences expect from a traditional horror movie and willing to really go there.

Updates, 1/27: “Aster displays proficient skill in eerie tone-setting, elaborate production design, and the type of scares that will leave a pervasive imprint on the mind, even if the underlying mythology gets over-complicated by the finale,” writes Jordan Raup at the Film Stage.

“Just like the aforementioned The Shining and Rosemary’s Baby, the film is infused with masterful images that prey on your senses even if you initially don’t understand their full meaning,” writes Jordan Ruimy at the Playlist.

Update, 1/28: Rolling Stone’s David Fear “can't believe that someone's first feature-length film is this controlled, self-assured and so adept at fucking with your head; and the climax references its top-tier horror-movie ancestors without ever coming off as a rip-off. The colder you go into this gem, the better. Just be prepared to leave shaken.”

Update, 1/31:Hereditary is set to be 2018’s answer to The Babadook, It Follows, and The Witch, combining awesomely disturbing imagery with unsettlingly thoughtful filmmaking,” writes Alison Willmore at Buzzfeed.

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