**It is difficult to write a proper review of Hereditary without some light spoilers, so proceed with caution if you have yet to see it.
The real unsettling nature of Ari Aster’s debut feature Hereditary comes after the credits roll and not necessarily from heads rolling off bodies (though that happens too). The film is about grieving and the realization of not being able to control fate. Not until fade to black does it set in how truly powerless the people here are.
We begin with the text of an obituary. Ellen is the just deceased mother of Annie Graham (Toni Collette), an artist who specializes in miniature designs for doll houses. She’s married to a kindly therapist (Gabriel Byrne) with high school aged son Peter (Alex Wolff) and middle school aged daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro). Annie doesn’t seem too distraught over her loss and her eulogy for mom hints at a secretive existence before dementia took over her final years. Only Charlie seemed to have a real connection with the late matriarch and we sense something is a bit off with her.
A second tragedy breaks the Graham unit apart. The history of Annie’s upbringing that she wants to ignore at first becomes inescapable. Every family has its demons. In Hereditary, we witness the literal meaning behind that phrase. The supernatural happenings that follow manifest themselves on Annie and Peter primarily. Collette and Wolff both are convincing at being scared out of their wits most of the time. For Collette especially (who has a bit of experience in the genre with TheSixthSense), her performance is a terrified tour de force. The Graham clan are typically the only humans on-screen. Ann Dowd appears as a woman also grieving a recent loss who convinces Annie to engage in seance.
Hereditary has a conjuring, but it’s not as preoccupied with jump scares and sound effects wizardry for its frights like the successful franchise (not that they’re totally absent). Comparisons to Rosemary’sBaby are far more appropriate. Much of the movie leaves you in a state of confusion and you might need to do a Google or Wiki search after to digest what happened. Writer/director Aster announces himself as an exciting voice in the horror game and one who seems most influenced by genre tales of the late 60s and 70s. While this doesn’t rise to the level of the Roman Polanski classic from a half century ago, I found myself feeling rewarded after everything was over. The Graham family, on the other hand, doesn’t get that lucky.
The horror thriller Hereditary generated a lot of buzz when it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival way back in January and A24 unleashes it to audiences next weekend. Marking the directorial debut of Ari Aster, early reviews suggest a highly effective and scary experience. Its Rotten Tomatoes score is currently 100% (never a bad selling point for TV spots). Toni Collette stars alongside Alex Wolff, Gabriel Byrne, Milly Shapiro, and Ann Dowd.
This particular genre is often the hardest to predict as horror movies can vastly over or under perform. It’s also perhaps the genre where reviews truly don’t mean a lot. For instance, 2016’s The Witch and last year’s It Comes at Night both had critics on their side in a major way. Their respective debuts were only $8.8 million and $5.9 million (with It Comes at Night being released on the same June weekend as this is). On the other hand, something like A Quiet Place took in $50 million for its start just a few weeks ago.
So what’s a prognosticator like me to do? I’ll admit that this is a tough one and I foresee a wide range for the opening of Hereditary. It won’t come anywhere near the earnings of A Quiet Place, but debuting around $20 million wouldn’t shock me. The problem is that if it fell to high single digits or low double digits, that wouldn’t really shock me either.
Fair warning: this is an estimate that may fluctuate during the next nine days. For the time being, I’ll say Hereditary posts an opening in the low double digits to possibly low teens as it will hope to leg out decently based on buzz in subsequent frames.
Hereditary opening weekend prediction: $10.2 million
Two months ago, the supernatural horror flick Hereditary debuted at the Sundance Film Festival and it made quite an impression. Reaction from Utah (where this was also shot) has indicated it’s a genre exercise that truly is a frightening experience and it sits at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes currently. The film marks the directorial debut of Ari Asher with a cast led by Toni Collette and costarring Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, and Ann Dowd.
As we know, horror pics face an uphill battle for any Academy recognition and that could certainly be the case here. That said, the buzz for this is getting louder as it debuts stateside on June 8. Critics have particularly taken notice of Collette, saying her performance is masterful. If she manages a nomination for Actress, it would be her second Oscar nod. She was recognized nearly 20 years ago in Supporting Actress for another genre piece, The Sixth Sense. Collette is not the only actress generating some buzz in this category as Emily Blunt could garner attention for this April’s A Quiet Place.
Bottom line: even with its sterling critical reaction, Hereditary could be a long shot for attention. Collette, on the other hand, could be worth keeping an eye on.