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Bitter ancestry: 'Hereditary' is as smart as it is chilling

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Milly Shapiro, Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne and Alex Wolff. (James Minchin/A24)

"Hereditary"
4 out of 5 Stars
Director:
Ari Aster
Writer: Ari Aster
Starring: Toni Collette, Milly Shapiro, Gabriel Byrne
Genre: Drama, horror
Rated: R for horror violence, disturbing images, language, drug use and brief graphic nudity

SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) - Synopsis: Following the death of its matriarch, a strange and sinister string of events reveals the cracks and crevices in the Graham family’s seemingly idyllic life.

Review: When I saw “Hereditary” at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, I was captivated by the film’s ability to use horror genre tropes to create a story that felt incredibly fresh and shockingly vibrant. Five months later, just ahead of its theatrical release, I decided to sit down the film again to see if the story was as effective as it was on the first viewing.

It was.

Last year we saw the release of “It Comes at Night,” a film that was mistakenly marketed as a traditional horror movie when it should have been presented as a post-apocalyptic psychological thriller. “Hereditary” is a far more traditional horror film. It’s cerebral, but pays off in ways that moviegoers felt “It Comes at Night” didn’t deliver. “Hereditary” isn’t a film that strings one shocking moment into the next, but when it decides to be visceral, rather than intellectual, it goes all in. There are at least two moments, one toward the beginning and another at the end, that are particularly effective.

Underneath the horror aspects of the movie, director/writer Ari Aster builds a character drama that is terrifying on its own. Aster deserves his share of praise, but what really makes the film work is its incredible cast. It will be Toni Collette who gets the majority of the attention (the idea of an Oscar nomination isn’t far-fetched), but Gabriel Byrne shows off his range with a purposefully timid performance and Ann Dowd is equally as good. You may recognize Alex Wolff from his performance in “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” as the younger version of Spencer (Dwayne Johnson’s character) or “Patriots Day” where he played Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. His performance here is exceptional as he plays a teen deeply troubled by his relationship with his mother. The real revelation for me, however, was Milly Shapiro. Shapiro has already established herself on Broadway, but her film debut here is revelatory (much in the way that Millicent Simmonds was in “A Quiet Place”).

“Hereditary” is a strong character drama built within the traditional horror genre structure. It offers some gruesome moments, but relies more heavily on the cast’s performance than it does on buckets of blood. "Hereditary" is s a rare genre film that, like "A Quiet Place," reaches beyond its traditional audience.

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