Hereditary ★★★★½

I'm so late for this party that the triangle-inscribed floors have been swept, King Paimon has been toasted, heads have rolled and another's already begun, with maypoles and everything. Better late than never though, and I can see now why a lot of folks have been saying that the Swedish festivities don't top Ari Aster's native spread.

Hereditary is a remarkable debut feature, so much so that it's been cited as an exemplar in the debate around 'post-horror', but screw that - to my mind, the whole concept betrays a contempt for the genre, dragging it into the light of 'respectability', which is neither necessary nor desirable. At its best, horror has always been capable of producing transcendent cinema. A lot of ink has been spilled as well over how the film functions as an extended metaphor for grief and madness, and whilst it certainly invites that reading, I think it undersells the incredibly effective HORROR on offer here. Not since Antichrist have I seen such such sights - so many levels of wrongness and insidiousness.

Serving up a supernatural tale of witchcraft and possession via Crowley, Aster leaves us in no doubt by the end as to what has transpired - you can take your ceiling-crawling phantasms and fireside immolation as metaphors if you want, but I'll take em straight up! Ever tightening, Hereditary's death grip takes hold from the first frame and doesn't let up to the last. The visuals are a beautiful nightmare; a precisely rendered picture of suburban maleficence, terrifying in its clinical banality consolidated by subtly perturbing sound design and a score that oozes low key dread. It's pure, unadulterated horror; the true modern Gothic.

At the centre of the maelstrom, Toni Collette is a human wrecking ball, a blistering performance, ably supported by an intentionally timorous Gabriel Byrne (making the perfect foil to her escalating madness). Both Alex Wolff and Milly Shapiro prove worthy hosts. You've got to credit the casting: Shapiro looks creepy af (no offence Milly!) from the get-go, there's just something unnervingly off about her appearance, like a doll from one of Annie's dioramas come to life (dioramas which, to borrow a phrase, have voodoo qualities). She provides a useful means of throwing in an early red herring - when she lops off the dead pigeon's head, we might think we are witnessing the origin of a psychopath when in fact it's foreshadowing the cult of the Hell King's M.O. The tics, which we assume are hers alone, turn out to be infernal signifiers. Joanie I instinctively suspected from the outset, but there's still a horrible inevitably about Annie's discovery that pays off in spades.

Holding up an enlarging mirror to Annie's world-in-miniature, Hereditary is lovingly crafted, elegantly structured and malicious to the core. It takes its time to deliver its payload, but like Paimon's corporeal quarantine, it's worth the wait.

Satony, Degony, Eparigon!

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