Hereditary is the first feature film from director Ari Aster and follows a grieving family after their grandmother passes away. Strange events begin to occur shortly after, bringing more grief and paranoia to the family, and leading the mother, Annie, to believe that the grandmother may have been dabbling in devil worship prior to her death.
The film has been touted as the scariest film of the year so far, and while there were some shocking twists (admittedly there was a huge twist that took me completely by surprise), overall it didn’t have a lasting effect on me. This isn’t to say there weren’t some uncomfortable moments. Annie’s career as a miniaturist sculpture definitely brought some creepiness as she recounted some of the more disturbing moments of her life, capturing them like a photograph in her sculpture creations. Plus there are some great moments played out without the reliance of the cheap jump scares but still took me by surprise.
What was interesting, however, was that as the story slowly revealed itself, different foreshadowing elements were presented in a seemingly scattered pattern but worked well to set up scenes later on. By the end, I found myself thinking “oh yeah, remember that person and what she said before?” and “now that makes sense”, which was an aspect I definitely enjoyed realizing on my way out of the cinemas. It was a sign that although the film was predominantly a slow burn type and took its time, at least it did so with some purpose and intelligent thought behind what was being shown so that it wasn’t just frivolously all put together.
And whilst this film is classified as a horror, it feels more like a character drama and a breakdown of the family. As Annie starts to lose her grip on reality, the hallucinations she projects onto her son also grow more and more disturbing. By doing so it takes the focus away from the horror elements and places it in more of a dramatic position that you soon find yourself sympathizing with his growing paranoia that she’s trying to kill him. Depending on what you’re expecting this might not be what you want but for me, I didn’t mind this change because at least the film tried to put a lot more character into a horror film. Which is usually neglected in such a genre, as the focus often turns to the horrific spectacle of events and characters become expandable figures on the chopping line.
There are also moments of technical brilliance, especially through audio, where the noise of a particular action is heightened to such an extent, often as foreshadowing, that you hold your breath waiting for the action to take a grisly turn. The use of tilts and pans to move to the different scenes was also a unique technique, especially compared to the use of fade to blacks that are often utilized. And there are also some very nice scene transitions that showed a lot of effort was put into making them seamlessly progress through. Clearly, those behind the camera worked hard to help achieve Ari Aster’s vision and it’s great to see horror filmmaking like this being technically and smartly well-made.
Toni Collette plays the role of Annie to perfection, capturing the desperation of a woman who hasn’t had an easy life, and is very aware of her mounting insanity but also convinced that there is something more going on. Toni Collette’s ability to portray wide-eyed fear and then in a heartbeat become angry and hate-filled makes her the standout of the film. Comparably Alex Wolff, who plays her cowardly son Peter, is slightly over the top in some scenes, especially when he’s crying. In saying that, his portrayal of a person in shock in the big twist scene was very well done, capturing not only the terror of the moment but the confusion that takes place following the event.
The downfall of the film, for me, lies in the source of the horror. Admittedly, horror films tend to be divisive as it very much depends on the individual and what gets under their skin. For me, demon worship and occult just doesn’t do it for me and felt a bit of a cheap and lazy way to bring this film together. A lot of the horror moments throughout the film mostly occurred in Annie and her son, Peter’s, mind. To then put this all down to demon worship didn’t seem true to the story being told and was kind of a letdown. The last 15 minutes of the film also completely killed it for me, as it took a turn from being on the edge of insanity straight into being utterly ridiculous and laughable.
I’m recommending that you see it, but hesitantly. There are some uniquely interesting technical aspects as mentioned above that are worth watching it for but overall, the story still feels weak and the ending destroyed any good components that came before it. Hereditary had the opportunity to make an intelligent horror film that had a lasting effect, but instead was let down by the narrative in the last act.