Every year there is at least one (sometimes two or three) horror films that completely take the genre by storm and become essential masterpieces; Hereditary is 2018’s. Some of the praise the film’s been getting is high to say the least, but not unwarranted. Debuting at Sundance back in January, the film has been on most anticipated lists of both horror-connoisseurs and critics alike. With only one horror movie in 2018 thus far to gain admirable reviews (A Quiet Place), Hereditary is a welcomed accomplishment; though be warned, this film is perchance just as dramatic as it is terrifying.
The direction of first time filmmaker, Ari Aster, is remarkable; from his ambience to the direction of his cast. True fans of the genre will be more than pleased with the scares conjured, while cinephiles will applaud the excellent filmmaking and utter brilliant temper manipulating. The film isn’t without its flaws, but the sheer greatness of its strengths makes up for them. Is Hereditary the greatest horror film I’ve ever seen? No. Is it the utmost horrifying, well-acted, and superbly directed? Quite possibly.
Hereditary tells the story of Annie (Toni Collette); a mother who is mourning, in her own way, the death of her own mother. Her husband (Gabriel Byrne), son (Alex Wolff), and daughter (Milly Shapiro) give her more to grieve as an accident sets into motion family-drama and a supernatural past. The family is tested by one another as well as things that go creep in the night as their lives, and minds, collapse.
Well-acted, as I stated above, is far and away an under exaggeration; all four members of the family give the performance of their careers. Alex Wolff deserve immense honor for giving such a demanding and authentic performance. No foreigner to profound roles as he’s stretched his acting legs in both My Friend Dahmer and Patriot’s Day, but both pale in comparison to the meatiness of his role here.
As good as all the cast was, all were only accompanying the role that will brand Toni Collette one of the truly great actresses. The unraveling we see her go through is far worse than any you’ve likely seen on film. With only audio, she gives one of the most horrifying cries that many will hear (what she finds in the car, for those who’ve seen it); from scene to scene we see Collette go from manic, to depressed, to enraged, to horrified, to terrifying. I think I have my first (and possibly most passioned) front-runner for an Oscar category. A nomination is nearly certain and a win is nothing less that possible.
A major job (often argued the main job) of a director is to get the desired performances out of their actors. Well not only did Ari Aster accomplish this, but he gifted them a movie to give those performances in that was equally traumatic. That’s a wickedly good adjective to describe the film; traumatic. The horror (supernatural and dramatic) are equally as traumatic; sticking with me far beyond the car ride home and the tossing and turning in my bed afterwards.
The plot has its issues, asking us to fill in too many blanks and at times going from set piece to set piece like a series of vignettes tied together by a story that doesn’t seem to matter in the end. The main complaint I have with the film is that it’s far too ambiguous. I unreservedly love ambiguity in film, but between one option or the other, not as a means to try and make the film smarter than the viewer. There’s a fine line between cleverly vague and downright pretentious.
That said, the ambience of the film is probably scarier than anything I’ve ever seen. Not since The Witch, and perhaps never before that, have I been more tense based solely off a tone and a score. Walking from room to room, sitting in a car reveling in one’s own mistakes, waiting for a realization from your parent; all mere scenes that could be not compelling in the hands of a less talented cast and filmmaker but unequivocally upsetting in Hereditary. Not till the end does it really become “scary,” parting from just disturbing, but when that shift changes its relentless. Make sure to keep your eyes in the corner of those rooms.
“Is Hereditary the greatest horror film I’ve ever seen? No. Is it the utmost horrifying, well-acted, and superbly directed? Quite possibly.”
As a critic and semi-lover of horror, I appreciated the film more than I fear others will. As impressive and effective as the film may be, I wonder how it will play with regular audiences, or worse, the academy. A24 has pushed films before, but a less than average marketing campaign has casual moviegoers oblivious to the severity of the flick.
There’s an odd phenomenon that if a critic doesn’t rate a film as highly as his peers than he’s on record as disliking it. I love this movie, and it very well could be one of my favourites of the year, I’m just having a harder time looking past its flaws, regardless of how much I want to. Notwithstanding a literal few issues, this is a horror film that will, and should, live in infamy and be hailed as a contemporary classic in the genre.