Friday, June 8, 2018

'Hereditary' Chillness

Boo!...I mean, can I kiss you goodnight?

When we think about the things that really and truly scare us, it is rarely the monster-under-the-bed, serial killers, or alien invasions. It's more often things like suddenly losing your family; the inability to protect the vulnerable people you love; and maybe, losing your mind.

Hereditary is a horror movie that definitely recognizes the potential horrors of family life, and is at its best when it focuses on that.

Toni Collette stars as Annie, an artist and mother of two who has just lost her own mother after an extended illness. Annie has mixed feelings about this death, as her mother was a secretive and often difficult woman.

Her family, husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), teenage son Peter (Alex Wolf), and pre-teen daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) are also dealing with this loss in their own way. Peter and Steve take it in stride, perhaps recognizing it as a relief, while daughter Charlie is sadder. She and her grandmother were close, and it's clear Charlie was her favorite child, as odd as she is. Or perhaps because of that oddness.

A palpable level of gloom surrounds the family, due in part to their home, a beautiful but dark craftsman house in the middle of some wintery woods. Annie's artwork centers on detailed dioramas depicting pivotal moments in her life, and the camera often tricks the eye into seeing their home as one of Annie's dioramas. It's a creepy and great effect.

Also lending itself to the creep meter is Annie's realization that her mother had a secret life that may have been downright evil, and the mental illness that runs in Annie's family may not have skipped over her like she thought.

When a second, devastating loss hits the family, it pushes Annie to seek solace in an unconventional way, with the help of a fellow grief recovery group member (Anne Dowd), while also causing some of her long held resentments to rise the surface, fracturing the family.

Toni Collette's Annie goes through almost as many personality changes as her United States of Tara character. She's at times charmingly bewildered by the possible supernatural events that surround her, heartbreaking when she's trying to wrestle with her grief, and utterly terrifying when it appears her mind may be cracking.

At times Alex Wolf's performance as teenage Peter is woefully overshadowed by Collette, but he eventually gets some pretty intense moments of his own. Sadly, Gabriel Byrne is completely underutilized in an underwritten role.

Hereditary is definitely creepy,  and it allows its utterly shocking tragedy to permeate everything that follows. For the majority of the film, we never really know where its going, and ambiguity lends to the terror. But then it decides to stop the ambiguity, landing with a very heavy thud on one side, favoring the kinds of things that ultimately don't keep us up at night.

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