Certificate: 15

Running Time: 127 mins

Star Rating: 4/5

MODERN horror films seldom prioritise nerve-shredding suspense - the kind of creeping dread that sends beads of sweat trickling down your spine and haunts your waking dreams. Instead, we're spoon-fed a familiar diet of senseless slaughter and jump scares like a malevolent force emerging at speed from darkness to a blast of staccato strings on the soundtrack. Writer-director Ari Aster's twisted family portrait comes close to the former, only to descend into madness with a loopy final act.

Hereditary performs a cinematic striptease, holding our gaze (even when we want to look away) by peeling away the layers of darkness and deceit that condemn one grief-stricken family to a grim fate.

It's a masterclass in terror titillation, choreographed to a discomfiting orchestral score by composer Colin Stetson.

Miniaturist artist Annie Graham (Toni Collette) is deeply affected by the death of her estranged mother, who cast a long shadow over the family and took Annie's daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) under her wing. Following the secretive matriarch's funeral, Annie begins to sense a presence in the family home and her erratic behaviour causes grave concern for husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) and teenage son Peter (Alex Wolff). In desperation, Annie turns to a grief support group where she meets a local woman called Joan (Ann Dowd), who suggests Annie has a seance to forge a connection to her mother's lingering spirit.

Hereditary slowly tightens a knot of discomfort, heightened by a bravura lead performance from Collette, who turns silent screams into an artform.