large_hereditary_ver2It’s been a couple of hours since I left the cinema and I’m still not sure what I just watched and I’m barely able to think about how I feel about it all. I’m a bit in shock. Under those circumstances, what better to do than write a blog post about it.

The trailer has been on heavy rotation for months now, which has done a marvelous job at raising intrigue without giving too much away; giving anything away really. I went in aware but totally unprepared.

Toni Collette plays Annie who’s mum, Ellen, has passed away before the movie started. We learn that it was a long illness and based on Annie’s eulogy, it would seem that the relationship between the mother and daughter was fraught to say the least. Ellen was a secretive woman to the extent that Annie is surprised at the number of people at the funeral.

Annie is mother to teenaged son Peter (Alex Wolff) and tween daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) and we get the impression that the relationship between these three isn’t much better. Peter is distant and Charlie is simply awkward and kinda misshapen and it appears that Ellen was highly protective of her. In the background is Gabriel Byrne who more or less is an observer to everything else that happens but sounds far more Irish on the phone than he does in the flesh. From the opening seconds, the music — the sound design is astonishingly good — lets us know that nothing in this wee universe is well.

Annie works on making miniature models of houses and scenes that reflect her life and the lives of those around her, so we see interpretations of Ellen’s last days and her relationship with Charlie. It’s not long before Annie starts to think she’s seeing her mother lingering in the shadows of her workshop. Then, at a bereavement group, she meets Joan who instantly feels too touchy-feely and claims to have had a rough old time of it herself. Then a bird flies into Charlie’s classroom window and she spies a big pair of scissors on the teacher’s desk.

First-time director Ari Aster does a remarkably good job at building tension and generating an almost threatening sense of unease. He also manages to coax the performance of her life out of Toni Collette. She is utterly spell-binding throughout. You never doubt for a second any emotion she’s portraying. Byrne isn’t really asked to stretch himself too much, but the two kids, particularly Milly Shapiro (in her first role, no less) never come close to letting the side down.

For the first ninety minutes or so, I was completely invested. Unsurprisingly, there’s a history of mental illness and suicide in Annie’s family and she reveals fairly early that she has been known to sleep-walk, so we find ourself constantly questioning what is real, what is fantasy, and what is dream. We are, I think, supposed to know that something’s not right, but we don’t know what; something is haunted, but we don’t know what or who.

In the final thirty minutes, we get a denouement that would even put mother! to shame and we kinda get answers to these questions. The movie goes off in a direction I found ill-judged and while there are other movies it reminded me of, I won’t share here in case it spoils it for anyone. I almost walked out. Not because it was bad. It isn’t bad. It’s just wrong. And I didn’t want to watch how wrong it was going to get.

But here’s the thing. Like mother!, it’s lingering with me. There are images I saw today that I can’t unsee and, for the first time since I don’t know when, I’ve got an empty tonight. The lights will be remaining on. Maybe this should’ve been a review of Ocean’s 8.

It remains a good movie but for an hour and a half, it was a brilliant movie. For an hour-and-a-half it was movie-of-the-year material.