[Screen It]


(2018) (Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne) (R)

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Horror: A family must contend with several deaths that may have involved or have now brought supernatural activity into their home.
The grandmother matriarch of the Graham family has recently died and those surviving her -- daughter Annie (TONI COLLETTE), her husband, Steve (GABRIEL BYRNE), their high school aged son, Peter (ALEX WOLFF), and his 13-year-old sister, Charlie (MILLY SHAPIRO) -- are all reacting in different ways. Most affected is Charlie who has an odd and somewhat creepy demeanor about her, but Annie doesn't feel much loss, what with having been estranged from her mom for a long time before she moved in with the family, developed dementia and then passed away.

Even so, Annie is somewhat unsettled when she believes she sees an image of her mom in the house and ends up going to a grief support group where she unloads her troubled family history but also meets Joan (ANN DOWD) who says her son and grandson drowned in the past few months.

The two women become friends and when a tragedy strikes Annie's family, Joan thinks she might have the solution. After witnessing a sťance, Annie decides to perform the same, but her actions leave Peter shaken and Steve questioning her sanity. As supernatural events start increasing in frequency and intensity, the family starts to come apart.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
I've never seen an actual breakdown across genres, but most movies usually take place in locations with which viewers are somewhat or quite familiar. That's not only because it keeps production costs down, but also because familiarity helps pull audience members into the proceedings far easier than some place foreign to them.

That's nowhere more true than in horror films that usually bank on such familiar surroundings to further accentuate whatever scares they might be providing. And while such locales can pretty much be anywhere, I'd argue that one of the top three -- if not the number one choice -- is in a family's home.

After all, when something goes bump or boo in the such a setting, it's not hard to return from the theater or retire to your bedroom after watching such an offering at home and then start thinking the same might happen to you. The best of the bunch, however, offer additional dimensions on top of whatever visceral and instinctive frights are thrown our way.

Case in point is "Hereditary" that begins with a simple obituary on the screen detailing the passing of a grandmother. We then meet the family (Toni Collette and Gabriel Byrne as the parents, Alex Wolff as the teenage son and Milly Shapiro as his odd duck younger sister) reacting to that death, what with that woman having lived with them before her passing.

Things get more interesting, however, when we learn that mental illness runs in the grandmother's side of the family and the mom has suffered from sleepwalking in the past. Director Ari Aster, working from his own script, introduces this and lets it all smolder as viewers will wonder what might be in store for them.

Then the dramatic, familial and horror hammer drops as a tragedy strikes the family, all of which results in even more tension among the members, as well as increasingly spooky things starting to occur in the house and, in more limited number, other locales such as the son's school.

And thus we're left wondering if some or all of what we're witnessing is a result of mental illness creeping up on the mom, newer bouts of her sleepwalking with associated nightmare material, actual supernatural occurrences, or some cinematic combination thereof.

Aster occasionally resorts to the rote directorial elements of the genre, mostly meaning a character hearing a sound of some sort and then slowly and cautiously heading in that direction to investigate and getting involved with attempting to contact the dead via sťances and such (the latter involving a woman played by Ann Dowd who meets the mom at a grief support group and has creepy undertones beneath her outwardly "aw shucks" demeanor and friendliness).

Yes, those are effective as they usually are in such films, but the first-time director manages to make them feel fresh enough that we don't mind the return to familiar genre stomping grounds. What he doesn't avoid, however, at least to yours truly, were some dead (no pun intended) spots where I felt the terror and dread let up and sometimes disappear altogether (and not from comic relief or the like), thus taking me out of the moment.

And I wasn't crazy about the big reveal and explanation behind everything that's been occurring over the pic's slightly more than two-hour runtime as that didn't feel as inspired and creative as some of the earlier material and frights.

Nonetheless, this is otherwise still a decently constructed, slow-burn horror drama that takes advantage of a familiar setting, a terrific performance from Collette, and some genuinely spooky and creepy moments that likely will have many a viewer a bit apprehensive at home in the dark. All of which means the offering is effective, and for that and the added layers of depth to make things more interesting I score "Hereditary" as a 6.5 out of 10.

Reviewed May 31, 2018 / Posted June 8, 2018

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