Nature and nurture, “Hereditary” is a film about all the baggage we carry that was given to us from our forefathers (and mothers). Grudges. Beliefs. Physical deformity. Mental Illness. The things we talk about. The things we leave unsaid.
The stars of this film practice their craft with subtlety – for the most part. The thrill comes with the juxtaposition of seemingly normal moments that spring into intense changes of temperature.
Anyone familiar with Toni Collette should already know she’s excellent in the role of the tortured and slowly deteriorating mother. She’s as natural in her grief as she is in her mania.
Alex Wolff’s casting seems a bit out of place. He resembles neither of his parents, which actually works for the film. There seems to be some subtext that is never addressed. Then again, he could have been cast on talent alone. That’s not the way Hollywood normally works, but I’m a big proponent. What is typical of showbiz is the fact he looks too old to be a high schooler, but again, he seems well cast despite this fact. His mother’s words can crumple him, and he’s a gifted enough performer to bring that vulnerability.
Milly Shapiro makes her debut as Charlie, a sensitive child that is overprotected as the result of reasons only inferred by the script. She lights up the screen with her very presence and has obviously honed her profession on the Broadway boards enough to stand among these seasoned actors.
And Gabriel Byrne is great as the long-suffering father. The importance of his role can’t be understated. He is the only member of the family that is an outsider, meaning while he has learned to navigate through the world of this film, he married into this brood and didn’t inherited any of their peculiar traits at birth. He is an outsider that has enough distance to make wise decisions.
The supporting cast is also very good, setting the tone of a world outside of the home. The stand-out here is Ann Dowd, an accomplished character actor whose role was to push the family toward the next point in the plot.
Most people will not glean from or care about the deeper themes, and that’s fine. This film works on multiple layers and can be enjoyed as a basic thriller about a mysterious cult. In that way, it’s a lot like last year’s “Get Out.” There’s a lot creeping below the surface, mainly represented by tone and the psychological games they play with the audience, but both can play as popcorn thrillers for general audiences that have become more accustomed to watching transforming robots battle it out with digital fireworks launched from the jaws of alien dinosaurs than they are to witnessing fleshed-out humans struggle with inner demons brought about by environmental realities.
American horror films in the early 2000s took their lead from the Japanese. The rare movie that wasn’t a remake still included that imagery. Writer and director Ari Aster seems to be finally taking us into a fresh direction. Still, in some ways it is influenced by the visual tradition of Asian cinema, and I would also point to blockbuster classics like “The Exorcist” and quirky, indie flicks like “Donnie Darko.” There’s even a little bit of “Deliverance” here. After all, just like the subject matter, no generation can say they owe nothing to those that came before.