Hereditary

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If I were to make a list of my favorite movies from the last couple of years or so, I can say with a modicum of certainty that very likely 50% or more of them would be A24 films. The company — founded fairly recently in 2012 — has given the movie-going public mind-benders like The VVitch, Ex Machina, and The Lobster.

Clearly, they have a propensity for leaving an audience breathless.

With a number of inevitably exciting films yet to come in 2018, Hereditary is their freshest nightmare fuel fare.

Following the passing of her mother, Annie (Toni Collette) eulogizes the Graham family matriarch’s very private nature, telling mourners that even disclosing an aggressively modest amount of information about the woman feels like a betrayal.

With two teenaged children at home, Charlie (Milly Shapiro) and Peter (Alex Wolff), Annie and her husband, Steve (Gabriel Byrne), work together to maintain normalcy in the house, minus one member.

A miniaturist artist, Annie is struggling to meet a deadline with a client. Her work doubles as a sort of therapy in that we see her professional projects alongside her personal ones; miniature embodiments of the eerie imagery that lives between her ears.

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Parsing her feelings about her late mother, her waxing/waning relationship with her husband, and the lack thereof with her two children, Annie has a lot on her proverbial plate.

It would seem that strange goings-on pile up one after another, though I wouldn’t have called the Graham household terribly “normal” to begin with. Finding camaraderie in a new friend, Annie begins to lose her footing and slip back into unsettling tendencies.

To tell you anything more about the plot of the film would be unfair.

As a person who enjoys the thrill of a good scary movie, Hereditary felt… different. It filled me with a sense of dread from start to finish. Families often have secrets, but this made my own look like the Brady Bunch.

Shapiro and Wolff — as the offspring of a mother who would appear to the naked eye to be totally off the reservation — are perfectly creepy, as children often are. Shapiro was given a role that required her to channel some truly jarring behavior while maintaining the idea that she is, in fact, still a child. A tall order that Shapiro pulls off seemingly effortlessly.

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As Annie’s son and her husband, Wolff and Byrne are the very portrait of a family wrecked by the loss of a loved one who is still living and breathing. Byrne’s crumbling attempts to keep law and order are both heartening and agonizing while we see Collette’s Annie spiral farther into darkness. Her startling, unhinged performance is positively extraordinary.

While the film itself thrives on its ghastly premise, Collette ups the ante and becomes what I imagine the human form of sleep paralysis looks like.

Director Ari Aster’s feature-length debut comes on the heels of several shorts — the first of which is possibly his most well-known — called The Strange Thing About The Johnsons. Aster wrote and directed the film — available on YouTube. While I recommend checking it out to get a decent gauge of Aster’s style, I don’t think that anything can quite prepare one for Hereditary.

Making it to the ending credits was akin, for me, to waking from a nightmare; you’re back in the real world, but it’s gonna take some time to shake what you’ve just experienced.

Or are you still asleep?

A silent theater shuffles out into the hallway and quiet murmurs of, “wow” and “… what?” bounce between audience members. In other words, the film achieves what it sets out to do.

Hereditary goes above and beyond the call of duty for a horror/supernatural/thriller — whatever you want to call it. It is a slow burn that eventually engulfs everything in its path and will likely be discussed for years to come as an example of how to get someone to sleep with all the lights on.

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