‘Hereditary’ a labyrinth of fear

This slow burn of a horror film may take its place among the masterpieces of the genre — and the less you know about it going in, the better.

By George Haerle

For The Daily World

It is extremely difficult to put into words how good “Hereditary” is. This slow burn of a horror film may take its place among the masterpieces of the genre — and the less you know about it going in, the better.

The least that can be said about “Hereditary” is the story established in the first 15 or 20 minutes. The film follows the Graham family after the death of its matriarch, with increasingly disturbing discoveries and traumas involving the family’s mysterious lineage.

Toni Collette’s performance as Annie Graham is just superb. Her Oscar-worthy performance is fascinating, well-developed and heartbreaking all at the same time. Gabriel Byrne plays her husband, Steve, whose role in the movie is the only thing even slightly predictable as a loyal spouse. Alex Wolff plays her son, Peter, who seems to be a typical teenager.

The most intriguing performance aside from Collette’s is that of Milly Shapiro as the young daughter, Charlie, who seems to have some kind of social anxiety or developmental disorder — but was very close to her recently deceased grandmother. Shapiro gives Charlie a sort of an ethereal quality mixed with childlike curiosity. Those qualities and character development become more fascinating as the film goes on, even into the conclusion.

The slow descent toward a terrifying climax seems to draw just a smidge of influence from “Rosemary’s Baby,” but that will be the only thing really familiar about director Ari Aster’s fantastic addition to the horror genre. Even for the most seasoned or jaded cinephiles who think they can guess what comes next, “Hereditary” will lead you on a confusing and chilling route of strangeness that won’t quite seem to make sense until the blood-curdling third act.

And oh boy, does that third act shock, tying it all together with a big, bloody bow. “Hereditary” transitions from artsy horror to the kind of scary movie that hard-core fans of the genre wish they could get every year. If “It” or “Get Out” were the horror classics of 2017, we have found 2018’s contender here. It’s hard to imagine anything coming close to how disturbingly entertaining it is.

This film isn’t for everyone, especially the faint of heart. It gets really, really dark — especially at the center of the film, in the midst of the second act. This critic’s jaw dropped repeatedly through the twisted climax.

“Hereditary” was made with horror movie lovers in mind — those who have appreciated studio A24’s other high-concept and artsy horror films, such as “The Witch,” “It Follows” and “The Green Room” — though this one may have a bit wider appeal.

Don’t expect jump scares or the surety of monsters and specters sneaking through the background. “Hereditary” digs into your skin and makes it crawl with unsettling anxiety for what the Graham family will experience next. This is a top-notch horror film — the cinematic equivalent to walking through a haunted labyrinth. If you are open to a rare sort of horror experience that will keep you engrossingly clueless to what could possibly happen next, this is just the ticket.

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“Hereditary” is currently playing at the Riverside Cinemas, 1017 S. Boone St. in Aberdeen.

George Haerle holds a bachelor’s degree in creative writing for media and lives in Cosmopolis.