Written & Directed by Ari Aster
Horror movies have become all the rage these days, dominating the cinematic landscape just as much if not more so than comic book movies. While comic book movies may dominate the box office and mainstream, it seems more and more than there is a such a great volume of horror movies these days that I would compare it even to the heyday of the western genre in the 1950s, when it felt, big release or B movie, that a new genre film was being released every week. The horror movie-going public eats up these terrifying experiences, and there have been some truly remarkable entries into the genre as a result, with plenty of other stinkers with so many films being made. Hereditary is one new film from a new filmmaker named Ari Aster which has created such tremendous buzz from the festival circuit that it seems destined to be the next great horror phenomenon.
The Graham family has recently had to deal with the passing of their matriarch, who was a unique and troubling part of the family. Her daughter, Annie (Toni Collette) never much appreciated her relationship with her mother. Annie is an artist taking her life experiences and putting them into tiny dioramas for public display. The Graham’s live in a remote mountain retreat where, after an unfortunate accident, they must grapple with the ghosts of the family past, which pushes Annie and the rest of her family (Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro) to the brink. Strange things begin to occur in the wake of these tragedies, which brings upon the question that perhaps the whole family is either cursed, or perhaps blessed in a twisted way.
Fair disclaimer: I am neither a horror aficionado or horror fan. That is not to say that I don’t appreciate a good horror film when I see one, just that I do not actively seek them out. With that being said, this film is getting near universal praise from critics and all who have seen it up to this point. So, here comes the dissenting opinion. I don’t like being that guy, I don’t try to be that guy, but Hereditary just didn’t entirely work for me, which is not to say there is not a lot going on here that works, or that there is not a lot going on here which marks Ari Aster as a name to watch, or that anyone who likes this movie is dumb. In fact, quite the opposite. I left this film feeling as thought I needed someone much smarter than myself to try and explain it to me. What that tells me is that there probably is some riddle to solve to unlock the greatness here, but it also tells me that the film failed me personally on a number of levels which made it such that I did not enjoy my experience with the film.
For one, the film is much more brooding and slow moving than I was expecting. For the greater part of the runtime, I would hadly classify this as horror at all. It is creepy and atmospheric, for sure. In fact, the atmosphere and general tone of the film is one of its greatest strengths, and reasons why I see freshman filmmaker Ari Aster as having a solid handle on telling his story. His debut feature is not too dissimilar to Robert Eggers’ The Witch in terms of its sure handed direction. But overall I was not very scared by the proceedings. It amps up in the third act, which I would classify as perhaps just bat-shot crazy enough to get me to like the film and its supernatural tendencies, but I was overall disappointed by the scares in general, feeling more inclined to laugh at their insanity than gasp or scream at their horror.
There is a fine line between a movie being supernatural and weird and it being that AND believable. This is a hard criticism to describe, but here I go. I can totally get on board with a crazy, supernaturally movie. Weird stuff happening, crazy people doing crazy things. That’s what this movie is. And yet, I didn’t fully believe the characters actions or reactions. There must be some natural sense of normalcy within the crazy framework in order for it to work. That normalcy is thrown completely out the window here, which makes for more than a few characters decisions and reactions that I simply didn’t buy at all (I’ll avoid specific for spoiler reasons). So yea, great, it’s crazy and unbelievable and oh my gosh I can’t believe they did that! But no, seriously, I can’t believe they did that, even in the extenuating circumstances of the insane storyline.
So while the film has great ambition, and I can appreciate it greatly for what it’s trying to do, for everything it genuinely accomplishes, I can not get on board as this being a great horror movie because it simply is not convincing enough. Toni Collette, who otherwise is receiving acclaim for her lead performance here as Annie, I felt overacted so many scenes. Gabriel Byrne is sidelined for much of the movie, and I can’t understand his character’s willingness to stick around and put up with the bat-shittiness. Alex Wolff is quite good, though I think he relies just a little too much on the mouth agape in shock look. Newcomer Milly Shapiro is decidedly creepy and plays that rather easy part well. The ending crescendos with great effect, as I said becoming just crazy and out there enough to redeem the shortcoming of the rest of the film. It’s a compelling argument for all that came before, but ultimately wasn’t nearly enough to win me over.