Hereditary ★★★★★

"I never wanted to be your mother."

Achingly deliberate. Paralyzingly voyeuristic. Painfully relentless. The existential terror so precisely conjured by Ari Aster's Hereditary is akin in potency and execution to that which is admired of some of the more esteemed pictures of the genre. Recalling the last horror film to leave me literally frozen in utter anxiety, clenching the shirt beneath my wide and watery eyes, is almost impossible now that I've had the fortune to finally see this bona fide masterclass in tension and emotional authenticity. The Exorcist this is not, but the cast and crew give it their all and craft a fiendish parable surprisingly not far away.

Aster's aptitude for stylistic hybridity, matched by the searing and dynamic content of the page, is on full display in this debut feature. Hereditary is as perfect an exercise in creeping, borderline unbearable dread as one could possibly hope for; a heartbreaking and distressing tale of a spiraling family unit learning that they were never in control. Fate has terrible ways of letting us know we're powerless, and the film expresses that phenomenally. Many will come for the horror elements advertised, but you'll certainly stay for the gut-wrenching familial narrative of helplessness, grief, resentment, and mental deterioration. The themes at work, while blatantly announced at times, are exceptionally handled and unify the traumatizing core fueling this nightmarish experience.

Beyond the expertise Aster has for the frame, the performances delivered are equally anguished. The world has already sung their praises for Toni Collette's turn as a matriarch on the edge of sanity, but it's truly hard to understate how brilliant she is. Hers is a jaw-dropping portrayal that takes the wonderful talent far passed the realm that many performers would go in their entire careers. Alex Wolff is also magnificent throughout. That car scene (you know the one) had every fiber in my body locked up as he stared defeated into the faintly illuminated road ahead. Milly Shapiro and Gabriel Byrne round out the family and bring their finest acting along with them.

It's hard to say how the film will stack up on repeat viewings. Whether or not Hereditary is a one-off cinematic frightener or not, I'll sit uncomfortably for the time being with many unnerving compositions burned into my mind. I think the more cynical side of me didn't even want to like this feature at all. How foolish and unfair I so unreasonably was. Regardless, here I am now, singing the hymns of King Paimon along with the rest of you.

"She isn't gone."

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