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Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Hereditary

“Adrift” and “Ideal Home” are also new to Blu-Ray this week

The title “Hereditary” is a bit of a curve ball. When most folks hear the word, they think of it in medical terms, having to do with genetics and disease. But let’s not also forget the other meaning of the word—that of someone who holds a certain position or title due to inheritance. That’s the better meaning to focus on with this movie in regard to the plot, and if the title is a curve ball then the plot is a change-up that hits the dirt the moment you swing.

“Hereditary” stars Toni Collette, in one of the best performances of this year, as Annie. As the movie opens we see her trying to work up tears of grief at the funeral of her mother, whom she feels like she hardly knew. Annie’s dutiful husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) is there to support her, as are her two children, teenage Peter (Alex Wolff) and his thirteen year old sister Charlie (Milly Shapiro).

Things go back to normal for the family shortly after the funeral. Though, “normal” is a subjective term. What is normal for this family fits most families’ definition of the word less and less as the movie unfolds. Family history aside, the present day actions of Charlie, particularly in regard to an unfortunate bird who died when it hit her classroom window, is enough to make you question the state of normalcy of this family.

Annie lies to Steve and says she’s going to a movie. Steve must dislike movies, because he never asks her what she’s seeing or offers to go with her. Lucky for Annie, because in reality, she’s attending grief counseling. This is an interesting choice because she doesn’t seem to have much to grieve about. Her childhood with her mother was not a close one, and she was angry with and estranged from her mother for quite some time. I think part of it is because she knows she should feel sad, even though she doesn’t—that is, she feels guilty over not grieving more. The other part of it is that she has some deep, dark, disturbing family secrets that she’s kept bottled up inside. With her mother now gone there will be no closure and no answers, and she needs an outlet for the pain. What better place than a group of non-judgmental fellow grievers who will listen and, at worst, just pretend to understand and sympathize.

Annie’s monologue at the first grief counseling session gives Collette one of two powerhouse moments in “Hereditary.” The other comes at a dinner where she and Peter have it out once and for all. All of the rage, regret, and sorrow this woman feels comes roaring to the surface in these scenes, one in a more subdued way, and one in a much louder, more abrasive way. Both are equally powerful in their own right. Credit also to writer/director Ari Aster. I don’t think that Tennessee Williams—the king of family drama himself—could have come up with anything harder hitting, more emotionally resonant, or more dramatically impactful.

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While it is a bit of a slow burn, the human struggle and family drama in “Hereditary” is so good that it doesn’t even need to take the direction it does after Annie meets Joan (Ann Dowd) outside of one of the grief counseling sessions. To say that once Joan is introduced the movie takes a 180 degree turn is an understatement. It takes the 180 degree turn, blasts off into space, and heads for Pluto. The pacing also increases substantially after her introduction. This movie is expertly enough directed where I’m sure this was a conscious decision made by Aster, and it’s a good one.

I get that there are some who will be disappointed or turned off by how “out there” the movie gets in its final act. I am not one of them. The clues are properly and carefully laid before you if you pay close attention, so this movie earns the right to go where it does. “Hereditary” is even the type of movie that is worth watching multiple times, just to see what clues are there that you may have missed the first time around. Buy it.

More New Releases: “Adrift,” about a young woman who sails into the eye of a hurricane to save the man she loves, starring Shailene Woodley, Sam Claflin; and “Ideal Home,” about a bickering gay couple who must now deal with the unexpected task of raising a ten-year-old boy, starring Paul Rudd and Steve Coogan.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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