“Hereditary” is a Slow Burning, Evil to the Core, Nightmare
Starring: Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Milly Shapiro, Alex Wolff, Ann Dowd
Does the film being called “this year’s The Exorcist” live up to the hype? Well…sort of. Allow me to explain, please.
Director Ari Aster comes out swinging in his feature film directorial debut, “Hereditary”, and presents a layered film that will absolutely stick with you after the credits hit. The film is getting heavy praise from festival circuits and for good reason. It is VERY good, but you need to know what you’re walking into just a little bit. This is a slow burning, tension building, character developing, creepy, atmospheric genre blend of a dramatic thriller that becomes a horror film. Think “Rosemary’s Baby” meets “The Witch” with just a splash of “The Conjuring”. This is a not a bukkake of splatter kills or some spastic jump scare film so if you’re looking for that, look elsewhere. This is a beautiful film that plays with emotions, imagery and sound in a way that gets under your skin and makes it crawl off your bones. It uses sound in a very disturbing, viscerally terrifying way. Little clicks, whispers, scratches and creaks hit you with the blunt force of a sledgehammer to the nervous system.
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Now that I’ve given you an idea of what the tone is, let’s talk about the film. Let me repeat: This is not some splattergasm slasher film. Jason & Freddy are nowhere to be found and no genitally conjoined teens are being disemboweled here. This film plays on very real human emotion as a framework and forces the audience to experience those emotions, which is hell of a lot more menacing than damn near any asshole with a machete. It explores pain, trauma, sadness, strength, weakness, vulnerability, PTSD, grief and regret with almost every character on screen and brings the audience right into their world. It latches its claws into your soul early on and doesn’t ever let go. Each character is fleshed out so well that you are invested in each one individually, to the point where your feelings become almost personal. It draws you in like you know these people personally. You actually care about this family for the full 2 hour running time. That’s impressive because I don’t care about most actual people right in front of me for a full two hours. And the movie builds up for 90 minutes as an emotionally crushing, dramatic mental downward spiral before barreling into the last 30 minutes, thrusting you into an absolutely unnerving horrific nightmarish final act. The payoff is absolutely worth the build up.
The movie works so well because, in my opinion, it explores so many things that people can relate to. We’ve all experienced loss & grief. We all experience anger. This terrifying emotional rollercoaster is something that you and I could actually experience for the most part and that is absolutely terrifying on a spiritual level as you watch the movie, even if the dread is subconscious. All the things this family is going through, many of us have experienced in our own ways and that makes you immediately invested. But you have to satisfy horror hounds if you’re gonna throw the H word onto the marketing so there’s definitely a supernatural element too. It’s emotional as fuck but there’s definitely more to the story. And there is absolutely some gore, it’s just necessary and fitting gore as opposed to overdone goregasm stuff. And I want to touch on the pacing really quick, here, because it’s a slow burn done almost perfectly. There are surprises and reveals along the way that are timed in a way to keep you completely invested. It is a slow burn that never feels slow and that is one of the main reasons why. Aster is one hell of a talented director and you can tell he gave a shit about this movie.
Toni Collette is incredible as the mother, Annie, that spends the entire film in various stages of a mental breakdown, having her world shattered by grief and regret. And when the horror hits, she’s every bit the scream queen the movie needs. If you had any question about that part, don’t worry. She’s masterful in this role. Gabriel Byrne is the father trying to keep a splintering family together and does very well with what he is given. All things considered, it’s a smaller part but he does it a lot of justice. Alex Wolff plays the son, Peter, who wrestles with feelings of regret and loss plus a strained relationship with his mom, making his fragile vulnerability leap off the screen. Without giving anything away, I’ll also say that he has to cover a wide range of emotions in the movie and when all is said and done, he knocks it all the way out of the park. I found myself hating him, loving him, feeling bad for him, rooting for him and more all along the ride. And Milly Shapiro plays Charlie, the special little girl that the bulk of the marketing for the film has very cleverly been built around. I’ll leave it at that, but Shapiro hits a home run in her debut. I cannot wait to see what else she does. Ann Dowd plays Joan, another grieving parent that helps Annie deal with the loss in a very interesting way.
Only gripes: The trailer exposed too much, you have to pay very close attention or you’ll miss little important things and the ending felt…too cleaned up? They leave nothing to the imagination at all, to the point that it feels almost tacked on. But it’s definitely a minor gripe.
As a side note: The movie is evil. I mean that in the most honest way possible. It’s an evil film to its core and it pushes the families pain and suffering onto the audience. But at the end of the day, this is a psychological dramatic horror film dealing with mental illness and strong, painful human emotions so…it did its job and I loved it for making my soul hurt.
4.5 outta 5 for me, closer to the “5”. It won’t be for everyone but I’m going back to see it again. And I haven’t done that in awhile.