I'm going to spoiler the rest of this after this paragraph, because if - like me - you really enjoy opening yourself up to the unease, anxiety, and dread that good horror can provide, you'll want to go into this movie as unprepared and open to it as possible. I also don't want to oversell it beforehand and contribute to raising unreasonable expectations or encouraging the kind of reflexive resistance to high praise that might suck the life out of the experience, but it would be disingenuous of me not to say: this is the most scared I've ever been watching a movie, and the most horrified I've ever been by a work of fiction. Ari Aster's feature debut is not a flawless movie, and I'm sure - for reasons I'll get to below - individual mileage will vary greatly, but if you enjoy horror as a genre, Hereditary deserves to be reckoned with.
Aster, who wrote and directed the living hell out of this film (pun intended), spends the first 20 or so minutes capably establishing the eerieness and creepy foreshadowing that's standard for these types of movies, laying the foundation for the pattern of steadily escalating scares and raising stakes we've all seen before. Then, more or less out of nowhere, he drops a bomb into the narrative with a genuinely shocking surprise (and a uniquely disturbing image now burned in my brain), a swerve which so derails the expected chain of events that even when moments in the rest of the movie felt more conventional, the lingering astonishment at this key turning point kept me from ever feeling comfortable with where this was going. Where the film ends up isn't entirely original - is, in fact, deeply rooted in and indebted to one of my favorite subgenres - but the extremity of Aster's vision for this story makes Hereditary stand out even among the most excellent of its forebears.
I was extremely impressed by Aster's, cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski's, and the sound design team's ability to direct and distract attention as needed to amplify the horror of a given moment, and his rhythmic grasp of what heightens a jump scare beyond the merely startling to something that actually makes you leave your seat in fright. As I said above, I was alone in a fairly large theater for a late night preview screening, and there are two moments - one of absolutely perfect surround sound design that made me instinctively jerk my head around to see if there was someone else behind me making that fucking noise (it'll be obvious what I mean to those who see it) and one of framing and focus that made me audibly groan - in a good way - once I noticed after a second or two what was unhidden but not specifically highlighted in the framing of a shot late in the film.
Finally, since I've already called out Collette's performance, I'd be remiss if I neglected to mention that while the rest of the core family cast - Wolff and Gabriel Byrne as the father - are very good, Milly Shapiro's Charlie is the creepiest child character I've ever seen on film. I don't know that I've ever had as strong of an impulse to get away from a character as intensely and immediately as I did her 13-year-old girl.