Review - 'Hereditary'
Horror shouldn’t be about jump scares, and Hereditary understands that better than most horror movies in recent memory. Horror is traumatic, unnerving, and often times familiar. Horror is watching a loved one die. Horror is living in fear of inheriting your parents’ faults. Horror is becoming something you don’t want to become. Horror is Hereditary.
Now, I love the slasher and monster sub-genres of horror but there’s rarely been a horror film to really capture trauma and grief in a cohesive package such as Hereditary. The Babadook comes to mind immediately as a film that dealt heavily with trauma in a believable manner but still maintains a Poltergeist-like hopeful outcome while Hereditary is uncomfortable throughout and aggressively pushes the viewer deeper into the darkness.
Miniature artist Annie descends into uncontrollable grief as the ripples of her mother’s death affect every inch of her life. Her daughter Charlie shuts her out completely and her son Peter, already uncomfortable around his own mother for reasons later revealed, continues to distance himself. Meanwhile, Annie's husband, Steve, is just trying to make the best of a terrible situation. Afraid that her mother’s manipulative hold on her life is still strong even after the grave, Annie's paranoia manifests itself and what is a heartbreaking family drama turns into a demonic nightmare.
Hereditary is not for the faint of heart. I’m tough to scare but I love the thrill of being scared; however, Hereditary is not scary, it is traumatizing. The film hit me in the gut multiple times and just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, they do. I gasped out loud at several scenes and I felt the theater gasp with me. It’s a really unsettling experience magnified by its incredible sound design, amplified ten fold with a score by Colin Stetson that sounds like it belongs in the seventh circle of hell. It’s as oppressive as it is beautiful.
The direction Ari Aster takes with Hereditary is incredibly unique. Annie's character is a miniature artist, building wonderful replicas of real world locations but instead of just passing this over as a simple job, the story, cinematography and set design match her artistry throughout. Most of the scenes are shot center frame while the transitions from scene to scene look like something out of a Wes Anderson film in how seamlessly it moves from miniature to set. When the film is intimate with close ups to the character's faces is when it's the most terrifying. Aster likes to sit on a scene for several minutes while there's dialogue playing in the background and it's incredibly effective, adding an existential dread. The use of lighting is also incredibly effective as there are things you may not see in a scene for several seconds.
All around, the performances are outstanding with surprise after surprise from Toni Collette and Alex Wolff. Toni Collette's Annie is pushed to the brink of sanity and it shows. She looks mentally beat down and resented by everyone around her. Throughout the film, Annie is constantly looking for some semblance of control that she only finds in her miniature work, where she captures personal experiences not with a camera but with her hands. She's incredibly frantic and I was mesmerized by Collette's performance as she goes from tranquil to explosive in seconds. Many of her monologues increase in escalation as you feel this repressed anger slowly boiling forth and when she spills out, it's unbridled rage. While I think it may be too soon to say that she deserves an Oscar for this, but she at least deserves a nomination.
I almost wrote off Alex Wolff as Annie’s son Peter within the first act as I thought he was just another thirsty stoned teenager with no real story, but boy, does his character arc pick up midway through the film and certain things happen that really push what could have been a phoned-in performance into an emotionally intense experience. Milly Shapiro as the young daughter Charlie is rather reserved compared to everyone in the movie. She's quiet and shy, mumbling her dialogue rather than speaking aloud. There's also a weird innocence to her where you don't know what's really going on in her head and she does some things out of the ordinary where you're never quite sure where it's heading until it's too late.
Everyone's turning out these incredible performances, meanwhile over in the corner Gabriel Byrne is the most subdued I've ever seen him as Annie's husband, Steve. I honestly feel sorry for Steve. He's just a guy just trying to get by without his family being torn apart, but nobody ever asks if he's okay. I'm kind of upset this wasn't a secret sequel to End of Days so I could see him be a little over the top. Not really, End of Days is bad.
Hereditary isn't without its faults though. The writing is fantastic, for the most part; however, there is some ridiculous exposition that spills out of character's mouths at the most random parts of the film where it didn't seem natural and came off more as your typical horror film trope. The poor writing really shows its head towards the latter parts of the film but isn't distracting enough to spoil the film.
It's been a splendid time to be a horror fan with a film or two every year pushing the boundaries of the genre further than it's ever been and Hereditary is here to push it even further. With breathtaking cinematography, an intense score, standout performances, shocking moments, and respectful usage of grief, Hereditary is easily one of my favorite horror movies and Ari Aster is a director whose future projects I cannot wait to check out.