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'Hereditary' is a horrifying portrait of tragedy and trauma

Other | Tuesday 19th June 2018 | David

Toni Collette stars in a gut-wrenching and intricately crafted tale of demons and the occult that channels the twin horrors of family tragedy and mental illness.

Hereditary opens with Annie Graham and her family getting ready for a funeral, and the tone doesn't get any sunnier from there. The death in question is that of Annie’s mother Ellen, a strange and secretive woman whose actions ripple across the lives of the surviving Grahams with devastating results.

While Annie starts attending group therapy sessions in an effort to move past her complicated feelings for her late mother, the creepy behaviour of her 13-year-old daughter Charlie – seen cutting the head off a dead pigeon – provides an early and obvious sign that something is still very, very wrong. Director Ari Aster masterfully escalates the tension throughout the plot's early passages, suggesting a constant feeling of movement towards some unknown impending disaster.

Once that terrible moment finally arrives, about a third of the way into the film, it’s even more horrific than you anticipated – but again, things are just getting started. As this fresh trauma threatens to tear the Graham household apart, the story gradually shifts into increasingly unhinged, otherworldly territory as Annie struggles to understand the supernatural forces that are tormenting her family.

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Though Hereditary comes armed with at least one shocking twist that any considerate viewer will be careful about spoiling, this may also be a film that improves with a second watch. There’s a feeling of tragic inevitability underlying every scene that can perhaps only be fully appreciated once you have a complete picture of the sinister schemes that are secretly shaping the events of the film.

Classic horror fans will likely notice parallels with The Exorcist, The Omen, Rosemary’s Baby and other respected entries in the genre, but while Hereditary doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel, the brutal effectiveness of its delivery is usually more than enough to forgive the use of some pretty familiar ingredients. It’s a remarkably assured feature debut from Ari Aster, in which each new scene, image and ominous camera pan builds elegantly on what came before.

At 2 hours and 7 minutes, Hereditary is practically an epic by horror movie standards. Nonetheless, almost every minute feels like a necessary piece in this film's elaborate puzzle, which has been deftly designed to leave you shaken, disturbed and still trying to wrap your head around the calamitous chain of events you’ve seen unfold.

Hereditary is in UK cinemas now!

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