Hereditary ★★★★★

You can only watch Hereditary once. The rewatch I’d been steeling myself for didn’t diminish my first experience or reduce the film in my esteem. But it turns out that you can’t break the same parts of yourself again in this case. That searing experience of first watching it is a one-time deal. Plan accordingly, because you don’t get another shot to be fucked with like this.

This film is an act of violence against the viewer that lesser directors can only fantasize about. Ari Aster creates a landscape of mental disorder that forces one to reckon with the fact that reality is a room in your skull with no exits. Toni Collette uses that landscape to channel soul-extinguishing destruction so profound that it curses descendants. Her expressions of utterly incomprehensible terror and screams of unbearable anguish are more comparable to a Francis Bacon painting than any contemporary acting performance. Choices that Mr. Aster makes, like the indirect experience of Ms. Collette’s Annie Graham finding Charlie’s body or the cutaways back and forth to her face as realizations consume her, amplify what was already a landmark performance from her. 

This combination of director and actor in resonance makes Ms. Collette into an oracle, imparting not so much messages as dread portents. This film forces its way into dreams. It resides in the areas of the brain immediately adjacent to incipient mental illness. It burns imagery into your eyes. One of those films that stays in your head for a while, although I suspect it’s going to be for more than a while in this case. 

Hereditary establishes a threshold for violence that is rarely reached in cinema. The harm visited upon the characters (physical, emotional, and psychological) is extreme, magnified in effect many times by the familial dynamics. Every member of the Graham family is pulled along unseen currents toward self destruction, even Gabriel Byrne’s Steve Graham, who chose to marry into the madhouse. The best art forces those who regard it into an experience, and so it is that this film has the power to force one into a frame of mind where dousing yourself in paint thinner and striking a match is a reasonable course of action. The repeated trauma and the horrifying mental deterioration conveyed by the events of the film would demand any form of escape at hand. I can see why a certain kind of audience would hate this. 

I find the forcing of unitary interpretations onto narratives to be a job for the charlatan. Much useless conversation has been expended about how to parse the reality and unreality of various details. What literal events are being depicted in this film ultimately don’t matter, because what is happening is real in the most important sense. People are destroyed every day by powerful forces set in motion by ancestors long since buried, their violence haunting the living in a very, very real sense for decades. The feeling imparted by Ms. Collette’s display of living damnation is truth, and that is all ye need to know.

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