After debuting at Sundance earlier this year, many called Hereditary one of the “scariest movies ever made.” Surely, no one overreacted to that statement and others like it, and everyone is going into Hereditary with in-check expectations.
In all seriousness, Hereditary is pretty great, and those that enter the theater with reasonable expectations will have many terrors to contemplate long after the film is over.
The following review will be spoiler free.
Directed By: Ari Aster
Written By: Ari Aster
Starring: Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd, and Gabriel Byrne
Following the death of her mother, Annie (Collette) must handle a shifting of family dynamics, especially with her daughter Charlie (Shapiro). However, the death of Annie’s mother brings some terrifying secrets to light, leaving the entire family in danger of succumbing to a sinister fate.
With a troubled son (Wolff) and an often detached husband (Byrne), Annie eventually learns that their entire family is linked in the most unholy of ways.
I could continue to discuss how wild the hype is for Hereditary leading up to its release this weekend, but there’s one piece of news that’s just hilarious and needs your attention. Namely, the trailer for Hereditary was accidentally put before a showing of Peter Rabbit in Australia. As you might expect, parents in the theater were horrified, shielding their kids’ eyes and ears from what was occurring onscreen. Naturally, theater management felt terrible about the mistake, and they quickly offered everyone in the crowd some free passes. In total, people estimate that there were forty children in the crowd to see the animated bunny movie.
Making light of the mishap, A24, the distributor of Hereditary, responded with the following:
— A24 (@A24) April 26, 2018
Who knows, with the amount of hype surrounding Hereditary, those forty children might not be the only people who need therapy.
Ari Aster Immediately Sets the Mood
From the first shot that slowly pans from left to right, it’s clear that Hereditary is the work of an auteur. First-time director Ari Aster has such a command for the pacing and atmosphere of Hereditary, keeping the movement at an unsettlingly slow pace that is the very definition of creepy. Those that are looking for a jump scare fest will be sadly disappointed (you should rewire your expectations to prepare for a ponderous, thought-provoking film). But fear and anxiety envelop the screen at every turn. If I were to describe Hereditary in one word, it would be “unsettling.”
This is one of the few horror films that understands the concept of tension and restraint. Some of the creepiest moments in the film come from out-of-focus images in the corner of the frame (one in particular made me afraid to walk around the house at night).
All horror is subjective. Some will most likely walk away from the film feeling bored and annoyed. That’s perfectly fine — not all movies are for everyone. But there’s true artistry at work in Hereditary that focuses on sending chills up your spine. It’s perfectly content with making you feel uneasy at every turn instead of going for a cheap scare.
In the end, it all comes back to Ari Aster whose impeccable direction has the entire movie fall down the uncanny valley in the best way possible. There’s something about every frame that doesn’t feel right (including framing that makes it appear as if the entire family are puppets within one of Collette’s character’s models).
After my screening of Hereditary, I wanted to take a shower and wash off all the grime that the environment of the film laid over me.
Haunting Performances Take Hereditary to Great Heights
And then there’s Toni Collette who scrunches her face in all sorts of ways — all of which are creepy. Collette attacks the material with a sense of constant escalation. As the tension grows over time, Collette slowly starts to lose her mind with a growing ferocity. She’s always pushing the envelope, become more inconsolable by the second. Somehow, she manages to always keep it grounded in some realm of believability, staying away from turning into a farce. She probably won’t get nominated because the Academy still has an unreasonable aversion to genre films, but her hysterical performance is definitely worthy of serious praise.
Contrasting her is Alex Wolff, who has quietly been killing it recently with roles in films such as Patriots Day, My Friend Dahmer, and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. Like Collette, there’s an escalation to Wolff’s performance..but it’s towards the complete opposite spectrum. By the end of the film, Wolff is essentially drowning in his own cold sweat, becoming more stoic by the second. After a rather upsetting event (that’s putting it lightly), Wolff slowly loses his humanity and cowers in fear and guilt — which perfectly accent the themes of the film.
Hereditary Mixes Heady Themes with Rather Upsetting Imagery
If you haven’t figured it out yet, the key term for Hereditary is “slow” or any derivation of it. It operates like a disease as it “slowly” takes hold of the audience.
For what it’s worth, personally, the scariest films are the ones that riff off of a very serious, real fear. In a twisted way, Hereditary could not be more relatable as it discusses ideas of familial strife and the potential horrors that people pass along to their children. Yes, there’s familiar horror elements such as seances and the like, but Hereditary approaches these beats with such a grotesque, bleak, off-kilter touch that it’s like an entirely new experience. Ari Aster has such command of the characters’ journeys that Hereditary ends up becoming more of a family drama that just so happens to be playing out within the skin of a horror film. It’s fascinating stuff.
Though it prefers to crawl rather than walk, Hereditary is a deeply affecting look into grief and the terrors that are passed down from generation to generation. It’s unrelenting in its building of tension, creating a feeling of dread that only increases as the slow pans and tracking shots are accented with the knowledge that terror lurks right around the corner.
In the middle of it all are outstanding performances, particularly from Toni Collette and Alex Wolff. The two actors are almost opposites of each other as Collette grows more hysterical and Wolff sinks further into a nasty malaise.
Good going, Ari Aster! The film industry is now very aware of your presence.
Thanks for reading! What are your thoughts on Hereditary? Comment down below!
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