Hereditary was billed as THE shityourpants horror movie of the year. The scary movie to end all scary movies. A masterpiece in horror filmmaking. Someone on Twitter even said, Hereditary makes Andy Muschietti’s It look like a Disney movie! Can you imagine the balls on that guy? But while these statements have been audacious and the hype among film fans, ridiculous, I’m not at all surprised. After all, this is an A24 movie. Yeah, you read that right — put your pants back on Godammit!
For those of you who are wondering why the fu*k anybody would undress from the waist down upon reading an alphabet and two random numbers, let’s just put it this way: A24 is to arthouse thumpers what PornHub is to horny 14-year-olds. This is the production company that gave us great films like Moonlight, Ex Machina and Lady Bird. It’s also the production company that churned out so-called horror jewels like It Comes at Night, The Witch, End My Misery and Jesus This Is Boring.
Hereditary is one such horror movie. Look, this isn’t a BAD movie by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, debutant director Ari Aster proves through every meticulously crafted frame that he’s got a bright future ahead of him. This man understands suspense and horror. He understands that a good horror movie isn’t about a bajillion jumpscares and loud annoying music that scratches your eardrums till it bleeds. Here’s a horror director who knows that horror movies, just like any movie, works best with fully fleshed out characters and a story worth emotionally investing in.
This may be Aster’s first feature film, but he tackles it with the confidence of a veteran filmmaker. He takes every conventional horror trope and tosses it out the window. He trusts his audience and is seemingly unconcerned if we’re going to get bored, unafraid to let his movie breathe and disinterested in speeding things up for the sake of it. Hereditary is a slow-burn. And when it works, it is as many say, one of the best horror movies in recent memory.
We open with the death of the Graham family matriarch, leaving Annie (Toni Collette) to mourn with her husband (Gabriel Byrne) and two kids, Peter (Alex Wolff) and Charlie (Milly Shapiro). Annie, who suffers from depression struggles to cope with the death of her mom, with whom she had a complicated relationship, and slowly spirals out of control. This is a tale of depression and grief and how that can bleed onto the lives of the ones you love.
When Aster maintains his focus on these aspects, the movie is great. My eyes were glued to the screen, both curious and terrified. There is an extended sequence that happens in the first half of the film, which I do not wish to spoil, but let’s just say it involves allergies and a car. Ari Aster allows the tension to grow gradually and organically. First, we see an argument between mother, daughter and son. Then daughter and son attend a party. You know something is going to happen — you feel it in your bones — but you don’t know what or how. And when the scene finally reaches its climax, I gasped out loud as I felt the full weight of my heart dropping to the ground. It is horror — perfectly crafted, character-driven horror — at its finest.
The best part is, we don’t necessarily see the full effects of the horrifying act, not until a couple of scenes later. What we do see is Peter reacting to the horror that unfolded. He just sits there, paralyzed and drenched in sweat. The camera lingers on his face and we feel very, very uncomfortable. Not many directors are ballsy enough to pull off something like this, especially not fresh ones. Most would choose to show us the event itself in graphic detail. But in this scene, I was reminded of Denis Villeneuve’s work in Arrival. Just like Villeneuve, Aster knows that the human reaction to something horrifying (or marvellous in the case of Arrival) is just as important as the horror itself.
Alex Wolff’s performance, especially in that scene, is excellent. The sheer look of terror on his face will be ingrained in my mind for a very, very long time. Can you believe that this is the nerdy kid from Jumanji?! Who knew he had that gear in him. Heck, in typical A24 fashion, the performances are great across the board. Toni Collette (whom you may know as the mom from The Sixth Sense) delivers the performance of her career — raw, powerful and shockingly brilliant.
It’s a bummer that the movie stops being a psychological thriller midway and veers into a typical story about possession and mumbo jumbo. The first half of the film brings up the idea of psycho cult members luring the weak minded and emotionally distraught into their fold with their farcical tales of talking to spirits of your deceased loved ones.
The second half of the film tells you that it’s all real, whether it’s communicating with spirits or some nonsense about the demon king. It’s boring and not the least bit scary (do keep in mind that this is coming from a guy who finds Gone Girl scarier than The Conjuring). And when this movie takes a dive into the supernatural, I didn’t care anymore. The problem isn’t about the supernatural elements in and of itself, but that the movie doesn’t transition into it well. It feels like two completely different movies that would’ve worked better separately. Aster exercises restraint in the first half. In the second, he shows us someone slicing off their own head because why the heck not. Hereditary loses its intrigue as it crawls slowly towards its ridiculous finale.
Perhaps there are implicit messages and symbolism that I wasn’t catching — in fact, I’m sure there are. But symbolism means jack shit if the primary narrative isn’t the least bit entertaining.
You’re going to read many other reviews out there that hail Hereditary as horror movie perfection. And I’m sure, this movie will be screened and studied in film schools for years and years to come. I’m convinced this is going to be many people’s top 10 movies of the year, but luckily I’m not being paid to evaluate movies based on how everyone else is going to respond to them. I only need to worry about my response and I responded to it fine. Hereditary is Interesting, sure. But not engrossing (not when it matters most at least). Cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski deserves credit — this film is GORGEOUS. But best horror movie of the year? Bitch please, this movie doesn’t hold a damn candle to A Quiet Place.
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Best horror movie of the year? Bitch please, this movie doesn't hold a damn candle to A Quiet Place.