‘Blu-ray or Bust’
HEREDITARY (2018, R, 127 minutes, A24/PALMSTAR MEDIA)
It takes a lot for a film to get a vocal response out of me. Typically, it is when a film is so bad that I cannot help but curse at the screen, begging for something other than the obvious, something better than what I am watching.
With horror films, my occasional vocal tirades come at the expense of idiot characters. These colorful and quite obscene bursts of verbal abuse typically begin with the words “stupid”, “moronic”, and “douchetard”. If there is anything I hate more in a horror film, it is one that breaks its own rules, or is populated with dipsticks and jackasses.
Yet when I found myself cursing at HEREDITARY, it was not at the expense of a stupid character or a poorly written script; rather, it was because writer/director Ari Aster did something I was not expecting, and jolted me from my typical movie watching position (see: relaxed) (and no, not from standing on me head). If there is any one word to describe the utter hell through which he puts his characters, I know not what it is. The movie is dreadful, horrifying, and sadistically beautiful. He crafts a tale so wrought with menace that once it is over, you wonder how you survived it.
The tale revolves around a family that has just lost its matriarch. After her funeral, things begin to get a bit…sketchy…at their house. The fact that Mr. Aster allows the family to carry this film shows his trust in their abilities, and likewise, their trust in the material. There isn’t a single performance which does not resonate in some way with the viewer. From first timer’s Milly Shapiro portrayal of thirteen-year-old “Charlie”, who doesn’t quite fit in anywhere (even at home), to teenage son Peter (played by Alex Wolff of JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE) grappling with the quilt of death and the banality and doubt of high school, there are no minor characters who get pushed to the side. Even Gabriel Byrne as dad Steve, who is struggling to keep his slowly disintegrating family together, shines at what he does.
Yet ultimately, this film belongs to Toni Collette. As mom (and daughter to the deceased) Annie, she encompasses the difficulties of motherhood in a way that belays all guilt and minor transgressions. One moment she looks horrified at something she has said or done, and the next she is doing herr damnedest to not be driven mad by what is going on around her. Her performance here is a wonder, a bout of artistry which makes for an electrifying performance. Expect a nomination from the Academy next year, if not a straight out win. Yes, she’s that good.
The Blu-ray release includes several deleted scenes, and a making of doc. But it’s the photos of the tiny houses that Annie makes for a living, little models of life which she uses to give her a more factual look at life, which are truly chilling.
The year isn’t over yet, but you can already mark this as the best horror film of the year. Watch it with the lights off and the surround sound turned up, and when you’re through, call me so we can start our own support group. For Aster, this is as good of a debut film as you are likely to ever see.
Film Grade: A
Special Features: A
Blu-ray Necessary: Oh hell yes
- T.S. Kummelman