“Hereditary” Movie Review

After coming home from watching this movie, I had to take a long, thorough shower while the images kept burning in my brain. Whatever you do, do NOT take your whole family out to see this film. You will all regret it for years to come. This psychological horror drama premiered as part of the Midnight section at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Following another screening at the 2018 South By Southwest Film Festival, it finally arrived in theaters on June 8th. Despite high praise from critics and journalists, audiences gave a mixed reaction to the film, scoring it a D+ on CinemaScore. But that doesn’t really seem to be deterring its success, as it has already accumulated over $62 million at the worldwide box office. Written and directed by Ari Aster, this marks his feature-length debut after producing a number of similarly dark short films. According to him, the story is inspired by a number of harsh, unhappy occurrences in his family which he refuses to share details of. And while he was making the movie, approached it “not as a horror film, but as a tragedy that curdles into a nightmare.” Toni Collette stars as Annie Graham, a miniaturist artist seemingly unhappy with how her life has turned out. When her mysterious and reclusive mother dies of natural causes, she, her husband, and her two children deal with the tragedy in their own separate ways. However, the whole family finds itself in even more of a struggle when they have to deal with some sort of evil spirit left behind by the grandmother. And over the next 2 hours, we get to watch as their sanity and unity slowly falls apart, piece by piece. Now, I have been really looking forward to seeing Hereditary since the first reviews poured in from Sundance. It’s always exciting when a new, young filmmaker wants to give audiences frights in unique ways, and the distributor A24 is a master at finding those voices. In fact, they have been churning out low-key horror masterpieces at such a steady rate in the last few years, that we almost take their films for granted. The marketing cleverly worked around how to promote the film, and yet I tried to caution myself. I’ve had a tendency in the past to get overly excited about hits on the festival circuit that end up being disappointing to me. So keeping that in mind, I really wanted to like Hereditary but tried not to let the hype train override my feelings toward it. And yet, my expectations were completely blown out of the water; this is one of the best and most disturbing horror films I’ve seen in quite a while. And you should be careful when you read that sentence because everyone has a very different, subjective view of what makes something scary. For some, they may just want to have a good time with gore and jump scares. And while this can often be fun, (Some of my favorites fit that very description) it kind of diminishes the potential effects that horror can have on a viewing experience. The ability to dig deep underneath your skin, crawl up and down, and rack your brain with haunting imagery that will stay in your dreams for days; if not weeks. In the entire runtime of the movie, there was only one jump scare… and it scared the living bejeezus out of me. As the credits rolled, my friend and I were left completely speechless and didn’t speak a word on the way home to one another. I even had to take a shower when I got home and put on some funny cartoons to cheer myself up. It’s been a very long time since something like that has happened to me after watching a movie. I’ve been impressed with some of Toni Collette’s roles in the past, but this might just be the best performance of her career. A far cry from her turn in The Sixth Sense, she is seriously depressed and unhappy as Annie, unable to find healthy ways to cope with grief and death. All of the hype circling a potential Academy Award nomination for her certainly isn’t out of the question. Gabriel Byrne and Alex Wolff do similarly extraordinary work as both her husband and teenage son, respectively. The understated anguish on their faces throughout the runtime show all the inner turmoil these two go through after the grandmother’s death. Also worth noting is newcomer Milly Shapiro and prolific character actress Ann Dowd as the daughter and mysterious friend, respectively. Neither one is particularly easy to pin-down, and both are good at making the audience feel uneasy. And whilst this may only be Aster’s first feature, the technical aspects reveal him as an artist in complete control of his own craft. The harsh cinematography by Pawel Pogorzelski mutes several colors as it steadily moves about the characters’ lives. Often times, whenever some bigger scene is happening, the camera will push in on one of the Grahams, almost to an uncomforting degree. It does an incredible job at fusing the layout of their household and livelihoods with the miniature houses and figures that Annie creates, as evidenced by the haunted, unbroken opening shot. The editing is done collaboratively by both Jennifer Lame and Lucian Johnston, whose work cuts together scenes beautifully. Whereas one scene could be made entirely of only a couple takes, others could be precisely edited with multiple back-and-forth cuts. The unease either of them creates in the viewer all adds up to an incredibly effective, bleak atmosphere. It’s still kind of amazing to think that Ari Aster had never made a film before this one. I’m curious to check out his shorts to get an idea of what else this guy is really capable of in a cinematic landscape. Certainly not for the impatient or faint of heart, Hereditary is a profoundly disturbing and upsetting horror drama with heady concepts. Hearing how the director has already been rejecting movie offers from major studios makes me excited for his future career. The imagery still burns in my mind and the dark themes will keep swimming in my mind for a long time.

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1 thought on ““Hereditary” Movie Review

  1. Pingback: Retrospective: The 20 Best Films of 2018 | Geek's Landing

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