When Ellen, the matriarch of the Graham family, passes away, her daughter’s family begins to unravel cryptic and increasingly terrifying secrets about their ancestry. The more they discover, the more they find themselves trying to outrun the sinister fate they seem to have inherited. Making his feature debut, writer-director Ari Aster unleashes a nightmare vision of a domestic breakdown that exhibits the craft and precision of a nascent auteur, transforming a familial tragedy into something ominous and deeply disquieting, and pushing the horror movie into chilling new terrain with its shattering portrait of heritage gone to hell.
With his debut feature, writer-director Ari Aster builds on a series of critically acclaimed short films centering on domestic rituals and trauma, telling the terrifying story of one American family battling malevolent forces that seek to colonize its bloodline. Loosely inspired by Aster’s family’s own experience with tragedy and grief-a prolonged succession of misfortunes that came to resemble a curse marks the arrival of a born auteur, exuding the formal precision and expert control of a master filmmaker. Through Aster’s meticulous craft and vision, this shattering debut transforms the domestic drama into a work of operatic horror calling to mind classics of the 1960s and ’70s.
Working with director of photography Pawel Pogorzelski, his classmate from the American Film Institute Conservatory, and a team of gifted artisans and craftspeople who helped him design the film well in advance of production, Aster makes his talent known in the opening seconds of the movie. Leading with an elegantly fluid tracking shot that seamlessly fuses two distinct story worlds–one populated by miniatures, intricately crafted by Steve Newburn (Inception; The Dark Knight Rises), the other by humans interacting on a set the filmmakers constructed from scratch on a Utah soundstage– becomes a sinister vision of a family living under a terrifying curse. “This is a story about people who have no agency,” says Aster. “The Grahams are like figurines in a maligned dollhouse being manipulated by outside forces.”
Led by a stellar cast including Toni Collette (Little Miss Sunshine; “United States of Tara”), Gabriel Byrne (HBO’s “In Treatment”; The Usual Suspects), Alex Wolff (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), Milly Shapiro (Broadway’s Matilda) and recent Emmy®-winner Ann Dowd (“The Handmaid’s Tale”), and featuring a memorable score by avant-garde saxophonist Colin Stetson, Hereditary is an astonishing debut from a writer-director whose reign is only beginning.