The buzz is very big indeed for an independent horror film called Hereditary. Comparisons are being drawn with Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist and The Blair Witch project.
It’s certainly as creepy as all of them, and it’s set out in the woods. A cabin in the woods.
The opening shot is downright peculiar, but I won’t spoil it, other than to say that the cabin is the home of artist Annie – Toni Collette - who makes extraordinarily lifelike models of important locations in her life.
Annie is married to Steve – a self-deprecating Gabriel Byrne – and their two children, Peter and Charlie. Charlie’s an adolescent girl and a bit of a handful. Annie’s mother used to live with them too, until she recently died.
Herditary in fact opens at Grandma’s funeral – an event notable for a lot of strangers, and Annie’s speech striking rather an odd tone for the eulogy of her mother.
The family attempts to move on, post Grandma, but it becomes clear there have been too many secrets and lies for an easy solution.
Steven and young Peter seem particularly affected – partly because of the lingering presence of the late Grandma, and partly because Annie is heading for some sort of breakdown, and no-one seems able to get her out of it.
Meanwhile the increasingly other-worldly Charlie is making her own sort of art-works – not so much scenery like Mum, but weird toys and carved up wildlife.
Generally, horror films come in two basic forms. There’s the tangible threat one – a shark, a fire, a homicidal maniac, an army of zombies. The plot can be easily summed up: “It’s behind you!”
And then there’s the mystical one, with lashings of hocus-pocus, ancient tribal burial grounds, and the Book of Revelations.
Given that I’m generally too squeamish for most horror films, I’m even less keen on the occult genre, no matter how well it’s done. But it has to be admitted that Hereditary is well directed and played – especially the performance by Toni Collette.
When Annie loses the plot at dinner, you feel not just the hair on the back of your neck going up, but the likelihood of an Academy Awards nomination.
Hereditary is a film about a family collapsing before your very eyes, under the malign influence of the late matriarch. The more you hear about Grandma, the more you think everyone had a lucky escape when she died. But of course, no-one escapes anything here.
It’s another almost entirely women-driven story – albeit written and directed by a male first-timer called Ari Aster – a man who really should get out more.
But judging by the response to Hereditary in America, Ari will be able to afford to go out as much as he likes. Whether you like this sort of thing or not, it’s definitely one of the hits of the season.