Supernatural horrors (like Hereditary, to a certain extent) are punch-pullers, which downshift gory elements to get teen bums in seats and bypass R-ratings.
With a dearth of deaths, and absent the uber-violence of other genres, supernatural thrillers are like a guitar missing its E-strings: they are limited in the extent with which they can compose a full melody, and create broader frights.
Hereditary, (much like ghostly genre standout The Changeling), to its credit depicts a jarring death to kick things into gear and to haunt the living.
Annie, an early-round exit from the Mother of the Year tournament, lets her 13-year-old daughter, Charlie go to a house party with her older, stoner old son, Peter. Charlie gets a food allergy and a wigged out Peter guns it in his parents’ car, hoping to get his sister to a hospital as anaphylactic shock sets in, and kills her in the process.
Charlie is posthumously haunting the home’s inhabitants, with Annie second guessing her judgement (and with good reason: any parent with a lick of sense would notice Peter’s bloodshot Eeyore visage).
From there, guilt wracks the mother-son dynamic, with a helpless psychiatrist patriarch, Stephen, helplessly looking on (played by Gabriel Byrne) as Annie’s mother passes away too and her grave is desecrated.
This is bitter, unflinching, dynamite stuff, which doesn’t even need an actual haunting when the characters are so metaphorically haunted by Charlie’s passing.
Unfortunately, Hereditary’s pacing suffers, and debut director Ari Aster doesn’t put his foot on the gas after the near-vehicular manslaughter leaving a noticeable sag in the middle (this is a 127-minute run-time)
Annie (Toni Collette) is a miniature artist, and this is used to maximum effect in Hereditary very quirky and arresting opener. However, with each successive pass this becomes more and more precious and affected as she buries herself in her craft to escape.
Still, the good outweighs the bad, and the ending’s super fun too.
***1/4 (out of 5)