Family drama sets a backdrop for real terror

There are few things as scary as a movie being marketed as the “scariest movie in years.” So if your first question is, “Does ‘Hereditary' live up to that hype?” I'd say, yes, it does.

Of course, not everyone's concept of scary is the same, but “Hereditary” comes at you from multiple directions. It starts slowly and then gradually becomes an unsettling and visceral film-going experience.

The obvious disclaimer is that your results may vary. I can see the same young crowd that didn't like “The Witch” (another film, like “Hereditary,” released by A24 Films) not getting their jump-scare quota filled. And it's definitely got roots in traditional horror, so it's not strictly art-house fare.

But writer-director Ari Aster creates an astounding debut here, one that acknowledges its horror influences before twisting our expectations in terrifying ways.

Even if you've seen the creepy trailer, “Hereditary” maintains a sense of mystery, so my plot description will do likewise.

Annie Graham (Toni Collette) is a mother of two dealing with the aftermath of her own mother's death. Her daughter, Charlie (Milly Shapiro), is having a particularly hard time coming to terms with the death of a grandmother to whom she felt a connection.

Along with her husband, Steve (Gabriel Byrne), and teenage son, Peter (Alex Wolff), Annie is coping with that emotional fallout when events take a sinister turn.

The list of kindred film spirits to “Hereditary” would indicate its hype is well-earned. “The Witch” is not a bad touchpoint. “Rosemary's Baby” is another. It sets up a terrifying and unexpected third act of terror with a solid base of unease.

And much of that later impact is made all the more unsettling by a searing family drama that hinges on yet another superlative performance from Collette.

Under a blanket of grief, Collette gives a wildly wide-ranging performance that both sets up and sells the terror. Annie's emotional state makes her (and the audience) start to question what is real.

Aster's direction is sure-handed. This story steers into unexpected territory with confidence, and whether or not you like where it goes, you can rarely say it played it safe.

In the week after I screened “Hereditary,” moments from the movie kept revisiting me. This is one I'm going to need to see again, but, I say, believe the hype and the scares.