The Graham family isn't exactly sorry to see Grandma Ellen pass on in the opening funeral scene of Hereditary.

But her presence is felt throughout the film—in the halls of the Grahams' remote desert home and in the life-inspired miniatures created by the deceased's daughter Annie (Toni Collette). The new horror film from writer-director Ari Aster isn't a simple haunting. Perspectives shift, a single reality is elusive, and commentary looms about mothers trapped by previous generations' ambitions.


Aster’s full-length debut is as intricate and uncanny as Annie’s models, and many of the film’s most frightening moments occur in near or total silence. In its second act, the film is so restrained you may wonder whether it’s a horror movie at all, and not a kitchen-table drama about an imploding family.

As that family's de facto leader, Annie and her broad emotional palette result in a career highlight for Collette. Is she her family's savior, the bearer of their doom, or just the powerless, sacrificial link in a bloodline? As with a lot of Hereditary, the mother's most crucial role may be to serve as a symbol. The movie is so dense with totems and parallel images that one viewing will be enough only for viewers who find it too arty to be scary.

Critic's rating: 3/4 stars.

Hereditary is rated R and opens Friday, June 8 atBridgeport, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Division, Eastport, Fox Tower, Hollywood, Lloyd, Oak Grove, Tigard.