Grandma's Secret: Hereditary
Something is not quite right in the lives of the Graham family. The Graham matriarch, Annie Graham, speaks about that as she eulogizes her mother in Hereditary. Annie (Toni Collette) admits to the mourners that the relationship with her mother was strained. That strain also affected her father and brother, both of whom died as a result. After the funeral, Annie tries to get back to her work as an artist, but she runs into trouble as she tries to prepare new work for her next show. Her husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) supports as best he can, but Annie starts to become more demanding of herself and her family. When her teenage son Peter (Alex Wolff) wants to go to a party, Annie insists he take his kid sister Charlie (Milly Shapiro) with him. While Peter spends time with his peers, Charlie suffers a severe allergic reaction when she eats a chocolate cake with nuts in it. Without an epi pen, Peter rushes Charlie to the hospital. When he swerves to avoid a dead animal, he gets too close to a telephone pole, killing Charlie.
Annie tries to cope with the family deaths by going to a support group for people who try and deal with loss. She leaves one meeting, deciding this isn't her way of coping. As she leaves, fellow support group member Joanie (Ann Dowd). She convinces Annie to come to her apartment for one-on-one support. Joanie's support consists of a seance, where she successfully summons the spirit of her dead grandson. Joanie encourages Annie to try this at home, where a reluctant Steve and Peter help Annie summon the spirit of Charlie, who communicates to them with the aid of her old sketch book. The seances, though, are just a means to a more troubling end, which books in the effects of Annie's mother help to explain.
Hereditary marks the feature film debut of writer-director. Ari Aster It's a strong supernatural thriller that sometimes leaves viewers wondering what is real and what is imagined. In one scene, Peter lies in bed, covered in ants. In the next scene, he's sleeping normally. From the beginning, Aster makes clear that everyone in the Graham family except Steve behave in unusual ways. Charlie, for example, was a bit of a loner whose sketches didn't depict happy things. After the incident that claims Charlie, Peter does nothing but go home. Annie's art projects draw too much inspiration from recent events. Aster also leaves viewers wondering if the family's actions are deliberate on a certain level, even as they try to get back to some sort of normalcy in their lives. Hereditary reminds me a bit of The Exorcist, where characters fight feelings that are sometimes stronger than they are.
Collette gives a marvelous performance as Annie, a mother in a fight for her family, as well as her sanity. Losing two family members, though, unleashes the anger in Annie. At dinner, she lashes out at Steve and Peter. She later says something to her son most mothers would ever dream of saying. Her art becomes autobiographical. She tries to control her emotions, but often leaves Steve and Peter hurt and confused. Wolff is also very good as Peter, who often finds himself in odd situations at school. He's unfocused in class, and is sometimes the center of unwanted attention. Byrne doesn't have a big part, but he's the man who tries to keep his family from drifting away. Shapiro, in her feature debut, shines as Charlie, the oddball and chocoholic perfectly content to be just that. Dowd is energetic as Joanie, Annie's acquaintance who seems quite eager to bond with Annie, whom she hardly knows.
Ellen Leigh led a secretive life, but the secrets start to affect her descendants in Hereditary. It's a movie with some gore, but plenty of smarts as Annie Graham and her family try and deal with the loss and the unusual events that follow. They know that someone or something is trying to shape their future in ways they could never foresee. They show signs of losing control, but Hereditary will leave viewers wondering if this situation somehow satisfied the desires hidden within them.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Hereditary 3.5 stars. What's in the genes?