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HEREDITARY Hits A Home Run For Horror Fans - Review W/ SPOILERS

AstroHeathen here. Before we get to the review itself, I would like to say that if you are a horror fan by any means, please try to catch this movie in theaters. The bigger and louder the experience the better, as a core concept of this film, which is not considered strictly horror, is to allow the audience steeping in the terror as well as grief before transmuting into something else entirely. This film receives a solid 10/10 from me, and as you've been warned in the title, spoilers lay ahead. 

HEREDITARY takes us on a journey through loss, grief, and the sacrifices made by parents and children alike to raise up family though actual hellish influence. 

From the producers of THE WITCH and SPLIT, director and writer Ari Aster breaks into the scene with his first feature film with an exceptional cast centered around The Graham family, Toni Collete (THE SIXTH SENSE, LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE) and Gabriel Byrne (THE USUAL SUSPECTS, THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK) as Annie and Steve with their two children Charlie and Peter, played by Milly Shapiro whom is also breaking into new territory on the big screen from Broadway as award-winning star of the big stage's MATILDA, and Alex Wolff, which I must say I mostly recognized as Derf from Marc Meyers’ MY FRIEND DAHMER. He's surprised some fans with his work on darker content contrasted with roles in JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE and so on, but ultimately his role as the generic teenage boy turned pinnacle of the occult in this treacherous tale is quite riveting. 

We start off with an obituary of an old woman named Ellen who died in her daughter Annie's home and is survived by said daughter as well as two grandchildren. Soon after, it's obvious that each member of the odd Graham family is dealing with grief in their own way. We discover that Annie and Steve Graham had been taking care of ol' granny, Annie's mother, in her supposed feeble final years of dementia, frankly Annie can't feel too relieved about the passing of her otherwise estranged mother, save for the random apparition. Her teenage son Peter is preoccupied with girls, parties, and bongs to be too woesome, but Charlie, the 13-year-old you might be rooting to be the protagonist of the story, is obviously different than other children and is treated as such. 

It's clear that Annie is trying her best to be a good mother but just like most parents, her traits both good and bad start to reflect in her children, the best parts seeming to be a creative spark in Charlie's toy-making and drawing, and a snarky attitude in Peter. At certain points it's charming, but there's an underlying darkness... Annie just wishes life could be normal, and Steve does what he can to preserve that, even when learning that Ellen's grave has been desecrated. Closing Charlie's sketchbook at the funeral, he is gentle but stern, grounded, a man of few words, meanwhile we discover a deeply rooted family history of mental illness, suicide and occult practice on Annie's side of the family, which from the perspective of actually studying the occult this was kind of cute at first, but served as a constant reminder of just how many things a family might hide from itself to preserve the illusion of peace and safety. After telling her mother that grandma always wished Charlie had been a boy, Charlie asks who will take care of her now that grandma is gone and her mother scoffs, but Charlie continuous "After you die..." and Annie says something about her dad or her brother, someone, someone will always be there to take care of you baby... Charlie isn't stupid. And neither is Annie when she asks if there will be drinking at the party Peter is going to, yet insists he take Charlie. There's a sense of "let's just pretend everything is okay, and it will be," which isn't how things work so obviously this can't end well. Not when dark forces are actively being set against you and your family. 

In a very Lynchian scene after the siblings hastily leave the party, I am immediately taken back to Lost Highway, at one point even passing an electrical pole not dissimilar to those reoccurring in Twin Peaks with certain symbols disguised as numbers engraved in them to mark areas of powerful energy, trans-dimensional portals even. My hair stood on edge as the camera sped dangerously down the dark dirt road knowing fate, these kids' reality, everything was about to change. When it hit, it broke my heart. Peter accidentally but none the less brutally murders his sister, then creeps back to the home and leaves her body in the car out front for his poor mother Annie to find, covered in blood so black it looked like tar... We never hear him admit or apologize. 

Charlie is a sweet kid who needs people to keep a little extra eye out on her, yes. She has some interesting creative talents and an eye for beauty even in the macabre, which is something I can relate to. Despite little things like decapitating a dead bird, from the very beginning Charlie is an archetypal innocent I can't help but love, and the film's title is a fitting reminder of what one could argue as basically the exact opposite of Jodorowsky's films centered around healing genetic trauma through ritual psychomagic, as if grandma made a pact with a spirit from the Black Lodge to spread like fire to destroy all that is good and innocent, to reach deep into where the magician longs to see in order to conjure up THE third king of Hell, Paimon, described in literature as a man with a woman's face crowned with a headdress of sacral stones and a noggin' full o' secrets. 

We grow increasingly aware that we can't write this terror off as mental illness, but a self-inflicted wound set in place by some freaky old people that we can only assume started as a swingers club in the old folks home. But hey, granny Ellen apparently knew her demonology, and who knows what kind of terrible magic she was doing on her daughter as so apparent with the rest of her family, but this isn't quite magic in matter of first-borns so much as it is grandma somehow still being able to wet nurse Charlie as a baby, which we see in one of Annie's terrifying tiny models. Annie had a role, and despite keeping her firstborn Peter away from his obviously unhinged and manipulative grandmother, ultimately she played it perfectly, a possessed La Llorona whose ultimate sacrifice for her children is herself, towards the end conjuring up a Japanese influence similar to perhaps The Ring and Grudge combined with traditional Noh theater. The effects were haunting in a way that lingers with so much more flavor than horror that just sets out for a cheap shock, disturbing and challenging the family's reality in a dramatic, often surreal and dream-like way.

And the sounds. Oh, each and every sounds in this film is delicately placed for the perfect chill factor. *THOCK* I love it. *THOCK* Is it all in his head? *THOCK*, almost like the Tell-Tale Heart, *THOCK* why can't he just say sorry? *THOCK* Why can't anyone just take responsibility for their actions? *THOCK* another magic word mysteriously written on the wall. Alas, we see in Annie as she proclaims herself a medium, as well as in her terrifying double dreaming sleepwalking episode if you open yourself up, you never know "what" may come through and act or speak on your behalf. It's not so easy to just say sorry, especially when your intentions are so... honest, rather than good. Though I gotta admit, when Joane (played by Ann Dowd) began coaxing Annie into the culty witchy woo, I knew immediately this was all a ploy, I mean, the way she blows out the candle and all before passing off a bunch of info she seemed to have "forgot" to mention earlier, I mean do you want demons? Because this is how you get demons. And when people started opening attic doors and deciding it was still a good idea to investigate despite the hoard of beezly bub flies instead of just calling pest control or a priest or something... after a certain point, I was ultimately to see what happens to poor Peter, because why his father didn't take him on a little vacation away from mommy for awhile is beyond me. Still, throughout the whole movie, you can tell these parents genuinely want whats best, as parents tend to do. The raw emotion and presence of these actors are better than any horror film that centers around screaming and running away from unseen, or occasionally over-shown haunting. You constantly have to ask, "Is this real? Is this really happening?"

The cinematography of this film is stunning, each change of scene adding something dreadful or ominous, with such a variety of camerawork and nuanced influences that nothing is entirely predictable. Filmed in Utah, there are scenes cut with ugly crying against a beautiful landscape behind the cemetery, the family's home set against a blanket of trees that could feel comfortable if not for the abrupt day/night flips that make you wonder if aliens could explain the unaccounted time. Through the dark hallway, the smashed art studio, even the warm hearth of the house is tainted by Annie's overbearing projection of psychic mediumship, embraced only because it was suggested by Joane yet unwittingly shared with Peter. The web is abuzz with focused comparisons to THE EXORCIST, but the only scenes that made me reminisce were the flies in the attic and the moment Peter hurtles himself out the attic window in rejection of his nightmarish reality of spiritual demolition. Did he escape possession? Was his soul free? There are many questions left unanswered by the end, but the reeling wickedness of the crowning of Paimon is nearly outshone by revisiting of Charlie's decapitated head displayed like a prepossessing idol or work of art, akin to the beauty Charlie saw in the pigeon she decapitated and drew. The cult "corrected" her first body, and set her soul into the body arguably it was destined for, now "her" greatness and knowledge previously unknown was released to the delight and horror of the world. I was absolutely beaming. 

Well, that about wraps up my review. As I said at the very beginning, I was enthralled by this film from start to finish and I hope it inspires many a horror fan to come! 

AstroHeathen over and out. 
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