There has been a resurgence of high quality original horror movies lately and Hereditary is the latest to join the likes of It Follows, Get Out, Mother! and A Quiet Place.
Hereditary is the first feature length debut of Writer/Director Ari Astler, and with this film he’s achieved the cinematic equivalent of beating up the toughest guy in jail on his first day to get respect.
It’s been compared to classics such as The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby, which is a fair comparison on subject matter but let’s dig into where Hereditary delivers and falls short of this high praise.
Without any spoilers, this is a story of a dysfunctional family in crisis, dealing with mind-bending psychological and supernatural forces. This movie gets uncomfortably real at times, with tense family dynamics, guttural outpourings of grief and general existential terror.
The way this film is shot conjures up the sterile locked off gods eye view of Kubrick (The Shining) and then combines it with David (Se7en, Fight Club) Fincher’s disconcerting floating camera. You’ll notice immediately how well this film is presented but it never gets in the way of what’s on screen. It is horrifically beautiful and unnerving throughout.
Horror movies live and die by their soundtrack, Hereditary makes heavy use of subsonics which are well known to produce subliminal feelings of unease and fear. This is used to sublime effect even in scenes where nothing obviously horrifying is happening that you can see (but this is a clue for later). This is a great film to experience in the cinema to make use of those pumping Dolby subwoofers.
Toni Collette is no stranger to being in genre defining horror movies (and I don’t mean Muriel’s Wedding) after her Hollywood breakout performance in The Sixth Sense. She delivers such a varied and raw performance as Alice the mother of a dysfunctional family dealing with intense grief, obsession, and possibly mental illness. There are moments after tense low key simmering she explodes and it all comes tumbling out, an unloading of the 7 stages of grieving in one hit. She will have you crawling back into your seat just with her dramatic moments than any later horror scenes.
Gabriel Byrne is Steve the stoic husband trying to keep his disintegrating family together for the most part but in this cut of the movie he’s a little bit bland and I really would have liked to get a bit more of the impact this family in conflict has had on him.
Milly Shapiro steals the show as Alice’s daughter Charlie a very much on the spectrum, unnervingly weird teen. She nails her performance which doesn’t feel at the expense or an exaggeration of people that are that way. I really wanted much more of Charlie in this movie and she is so pivotal to the events that drive the film to the end.
Alex Wolff as the pothead son Peter bears the brunt of all the family drama, craziness, terror and horror. Poor guy, no wonder he is in absolute meltdown by the end. My problems with his performance was more he looked a little old to be a teen and his acting was a little too over the top at times but really his character is being entirely destroyed psychologically by this point so I can’t quite blame him.
The pace. This film will destroy the easily bored.
It wasn’t a problem for me, if it’s a good movie I can slip right into it for the duration like a long bath but there’s a point where that bath has gone cold and you are coated in all that filth you just washed off like an oil slick. This movie leans into that unnerving feeling of nothing happening while ramping up the tension, then goes a bit further than is comfortable.
There was apparently an hour of cut footage on an already 2 hour running time. If there is a 3 hour directors cut when it hits digital release I will watch it. For its pacing it does somewhat pay off when it finally goes plain bonkers by the end.
Let’s remember The Exorcist, The Shining and Rosemary’s Baby were all painfully slow builds when it came to the horror that was finally released at the end, Hereditary is no different and in a lot of ways provides more scares that modern horror audiences have become accustomed to.
The tone could be a problem for some people, there were parts where there was nervous tittering coming from the audience. Not that it ruined the movie but it did make you take pause and wonder how you are meant to be feeling about certain scenes. Namely it does its own variation of The Last Jedi’s flying Leia scene. However some of the off kilter tone actually feels intentional and really makes it a hard one to pin down.
This is a great modern horror movie. There is not one jump scare in the movie and I can’t tell you enough how effectively more scary things silently moving in the shadows was instead. I was then searching every shadow in every dark corner of the movie for something lurking there.
What it decides to show you and what it doesn’t is its core strength.
For a full hour afterwards I couldn’t be sure how I felt about it, until I settled on “I liked it, I liked it a lot.”
The Devil truly is in the details with Hereditary.
In cinemas now: Wide release
See it if you like: The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, The Shining
Skip it if you like: Fast pacing, Jump Scares, your spiritual and mental wellbeing