Cast: Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Gabriel Byrne
Director: Ari Aster
Synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes: When Ellen, the matriarch of the Graham family, passes away, her daughter’s family begins to unravel cryptic and increasingly terrifying secrets about their ancestry. The more they discover, the more they find themselves trying to outrun the sinister fate they seem to have inherited. Making his feature debut, writer-director Ari Aster unleashes a nightmare vision of a domestic breakdown that exhibits the craft and precision of a nascent auteur, transforming a familial tragedy into something ominous and deeply disquieting, and pushing the horror movie into chilling new terrain with its shattering portrait of heritage gone to hell.
2018 has been an incredibly mixed bag for horror movies so far. On one end of the spectrum, we have had disappointing attempts at horror from movies like Winchester and Insidious: The Last Key. One the other end, A Quiet Place was creative, intuitive, frightening, and so far one of the best movies of the year. So, where does Hereditary lie on this spectrum? Barring the sluggish pacing, Hereditary will hold a special place as being one of the most unsettling movies I have ever seen through its intense performances and ability to make every scare as descriptive and detailed as possible.
The film follows the Graham family after the death of Annie’s (Collette) mother. After her death, the family discovers some of the activities that Annie’s mother was involved in and the consequences that they have on all members of the family. One of the things that really separates Hereditary from many of the other films in the horror genre is its ability to keep us guessing almost all the way through. Right when you think you have a character or plot figured out, a detail emerges that throws you for a loop, but does it in an intelligent way. This really pays off for the moments of high tension and horror because they are set up in a way that is plausible yet unexpected. Speaking of the horror, I personally loved how tense and dramatic this film was. I believe that true horror films do a great job of placing you in the character’s situation, and this is one of the few horror films where I felt as though I was actually apart of the experience. While watching Hereditary, I felt like I was wearing one of those lead vests dentists use for x-rays, which is exactly the amount of weight I should feel during a movie like this. Outside of the traditional horror elements, the acting far surpassed many of the rival films within the genre. While Collette gives a particularly twisted and extreme performance, my attention was always more focused on Peter (Wolff) and Charlie (Shapiro). This is one of the few films I have seen in recent years that actually got how most teenagers would act in these types of situations. In many of the traditional horror movies, only the female characters are allowed to react in an emotional way, but if these situations were actually happening, I believe most of us would be an absolute mess. Wolff accurately portrays this level of emotion by showing us just how messed up these events are and how they can completely break us down and leave us as a blubbering pile of fear. Shapiro on the other hand, has to be one of the best young actor choices of the year. Her presence is so creepy and unsettling and almost all of it is due to the subtlety and nonchalance with which she acts out her scenes. Combining this with a unique direction that completely shifts what you think Charlie is going to do and you get a character that very well could be this generation’s Regan MacNeil.
One of the areas that the film could have improved was the pacing. The film is quite long for a horror movie at 127 minutes, and you feel every single minute of it. Most of the first 90 minutes tends to just be exposition and world building while the final 30 or so minutes is where we get our most of our payoff. It is a slow burn, but I think there were more than a few fluff scenes that could have been cut down or removed completely for the sake of the pacing. Outside of that, this might be a nitpick from me, but the thing that separates Hereditary from being an all-time great horror movie is that the film is lacking a signature horror scene. The all-time greats such as Jaws and Rosemary’s Baby all have a signature scene that anyone familiar with horror movies can identify. I do not believe that any of the scenes in Hereditary stand out in that way. While it is a more than acceptable film, it was just lacking that final punch to push it over the edge.
Overall, elite performances and a story that will stick with you for days after you watch it make Hereditary a must-see for all horror fans. From a technical standpoint, the camerawork was absolutely phenomenal, as we get to see many beautiful tracking shots and zooming tricks that tell the story without ever saying a word. Hereditary is not like many of the modern horror films that come out nowadays, which is I why I believe it is receiving such a cold audience reception. However, it is certainly an upgrade from A24’s attempt at horror movie last year when they released It Comes at Night. If you can get past the long beginning, I guarantee you the payoff will be worth it.
Overall Score: 8.5/10