• Jack Wells

Movie Review - Hereditary

Thoroughly disturbing and chillingly effective character driven horror with a truly solid cast.

One of the more unsettling horror movies I’ve seen in a long time, Hereditary is one of those films best seen in a quiet theater, late at night, when you’re maybe a little tipsy and more relaxed than usual. Heralded by an equally unsettling trailer that does a wonderful job of telling what to expect without actually telling you ANYTHING about the movie, Hereditary is the movie that I wanted The VVitch to be. But while The VVitch ultimately couldn’t live up to its rather encouraging trailer, Hereditary manages to stick the landing in interesting (and generally unexpected) ways.

Bottom line up front; Hereditary is more of a cerebral horror film than a traditional monster/slasher/poltergeist offering. Not that it doesn’t have a supernatural edge to it (it does), but instead of being the film’s primary focus, it’s there to enhance the narrative and provide flavor to the increasingly bizarre occurrences that befall the Graham family. This is more of a subtle, creeping dread that gradually builds upon itself. If you like your horror in the vein of The Exorcist, Children of the Corn, The Conjuring, or The Omen, then you’ll feel right at home with this one. And that’s because director Ari Aster knows how to play with, and subvert, our expectations as an audience, relying more on lingering, uncomfortable shots and implied horror rather than traditional jump scares or herrings. Hereditary also manages to surprise. Just when you think you have a handle on where it’s going, it pulls a 180 and heads in a completely different, albeit fitting, direction.

But, that said, unexpected twists and effective directing can only take a movie like this so far. You need characters you care about, or at least characters that are believable, to sell the drama. Imagine The Sixth Sense without the great performances by Bruce Willis, Toni Collette, and Haley Joel Osment...it would likely have been a vastly different movie, comical and disappointing. And because Hereditary, like The Sixth Sense, is such a character driven affair, it is only effective because of the solid cast anchoring it. Make no mistake, Toni Collette (here she is again!) absolutely nails it as our main character Annie Graham. She makes every emotion real, and makes it look effortless while doing so. You want grief? Check. You want repressed anger finally bubbling over? She brings it. You want unbridled hysteria? Yup, she brings that too. I think it’s hard for any actor to pull off the slow unraveling of a character, but Toni Collette is more than up to the challenge. It’s also nice to see Gabriel Byrne in something again. Unlike traditional fathers in horror movies, his character Steve Graham is neither absent nor abusive. He actually acquits himself well as a man trying desperately to hold his fracturing family together in the midst of extreme chaos. Steve is increasingly exasperated and overwhelmed by the events taking place, and Byrne handles the role admirably. Milly Shapiro channels creepy like a champ as daughter Charlie, while Alex Wolff as son Peter turns in a performance as far removed from his Jumanji character as possible. Ann Dowd, amazingly awful as Aunt Lydia in The Handmaid’s Tale, plays another great supporting character here.

Like I mentioned earlier, see this one in the theater if at all possible. In addition to some great directing, Hereditary features some of the most effective use of sound I’ve experienced in a horror film. Small audio cues, sometimes from the side or rear surround speakers, had several audience members screaming, much to the amusement of the rest of us. And though it doesn’t rely on jump scares, there are a couple, though they are generally more because of something static you suddenly see in the shot as opposed to something/someone actually jumping out of the dark. I’m worried that the transition to smaller screens and (usually) less dynamic audio systems will neuter some of these moments.

It must be mentioned that Hereditary definitely doesn’t play out like you think it will. Annie Graham’s family tree is rife with mental illness and aberrant behavior (as we learn in one of Toni Collette’s most well-acted scenes), so there are times when what is happening may or may not be real. It’s just a shame that this aspect of the story isn’t given as much emphasis. The is-she-or-isn’t-she-crazy aspect is something that could have been given more time to grow, which would have likely made the film even more solid in its delivery.

I won’t say that this is a perfect film, because it definitely isn’t. For one, the ending will likely be incredibly divisive, as it definitely comes out of left field. I was fine with the ending personally, as it was a rather unique way to wrap up a story. But it definitely won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. I expected more from Annie’s profession as a miniaturist as well. The miniature recreations she makes of events that she’s experienced are a very real and literal way for her to revisit those moments to try and come to grips with them, but they were made out to be something bigger in the trailers.

But minor gripes aside, Hereditary was a thoroughly enjoyable horror romp, bringing enough new to the table to stand out. Definitely worth a watch.

4 out of 5 going slightly insane stars!

STABS ratings:

Sexiness 1/10

Teenage staring at a co-ed’s butt (in jeans) at her desk. And that’s about it.

Thespianism 8/10

Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, and Ann Dowd are awesome. In fact, Toni basically knocks it out of the park. The kids are good too!

Atmosphere 7/10

Lingering shots, cut-aways to creepy miniatures, things just barely glimpsed in the frame…this is a well shot movie.

Blood/Gore 6/10

Surprisingly tamer than expected. A decapitated head, some blood from a neck wound, and that’s really it. It’s more implied than actually seen.

Soundtrack 2/10

Not terrible, not wonderful. The fact that I can’t remember it pretty much cements it as a middle of the road offering.

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