Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean your family isn’t out to get you.

It’s still a compliment when the worst thing you can say about a horror film is that its reach exceeds its grasp, and Ari Aster’s Hereditary could have benefited from a bit more focus on the story level. When her mentally disturbed mother dies, artist Annie (Toni Collette) finds her troubled family is beginning to unravel further, and she suspects supernatural forces are at play around her tween daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) and teenage son Peter (Alex Wolff). Hereditary has been compared to The Babadook and It Follows, but it lacks their laser-like sense of claustrophobia and tries to go into too many directions in its third act.

Story bloat aside, Hereditary is an effective mood piece on the trauma of not just familial death, but bad familial death — and it makes a strong case for some deaths being worse than others. Toni Collette’s performance has been getting lots of advance buzz, deservedly, although Hereditary’s true cornerstone is Alex Wolff, who does much of the emotional heavy lifting as a young man who can’t begin to fathom how deep his waking nightmare runs. The camera often lingers on his expressive face long beyond the point of audience comfort, and it’s Wolff’s often-wordless, always-riveting performance which makes Hereditary one of the most emotionally harrowing horror movies in years.

Rated R. 
Opens Friday at the AMC Metreon 16 and AMC Van Ness 14.

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