Director: Ari Aster
Starring: Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd, Gabriel Byrne
A24 is back on the hype train.
Since its premiere at 2018’s Sundance Film Festival, Hereditary has very quickly built a fearsome reputation as the scariest movie in decades and, more ominously, this generation’s The Exorcist. People were reportedly passing out, fainting and leaving screenings – the standard “scariest movie ever” events – but could this movie really live up to the mildly insane buzz that has surrounded it?
When family matriarch Ellen passes away from seeming old age, her daughter Annie (Collette) begins seeing visions of her and her husband is informed that Ellen’s grave has been desecrated. Struggling to come to terms with the passing of her estranged mother, Annie begins to attend support groups. Her children, Charlie (Shapiro) and Peter (Wolff), both deal with the news in different ways. Charlie withdraws further into her (already insular) self and does some...strange things, whereas Peter smokes his weed and carries on. An invite to a high school party, however, begins to really start the weird wheels rolling as the Graham family begin to inhabit their own small piece of hell.
Hereditary has been compared to The Exorcist, so let’s quash that straight away – this is not The Exorcist, nor is it in the same bracket. This is a very, very decent horror drama that cranks up the tension, has some horrifying images, looks incredible and sounds great – so, similar to the 1973 classic then? When listed, yes, when viewed, no. Ari Aster delivers a disturbing, dark horror full of weight and dread with a superb leading performance from Toni Collette, but your overall enjoyment will rest on whether you buy into the divisive finale. There are an awful lot of positives throughout the movie (far more good than bad) and you’ll be sucked into the deep study of grief and torment, as well as the shocking moments that Aster wickedly sprinkles in – so sit back, grip your seat and get ready to survive the ride, but maybe just temper your expectations slightly.
There’s a great mix of horror, drama, mystery and thriller elements to this movie that really blend well together. Hereditary doesn’t mess about in regards to crashing into the story, from the moment the movie begins, the tension starts to rise and the mystery builds. The imagery throughout ranges from subtle to full on disturbing and, for the most part, the pacing keeps the momentum going. It’s not a fast-moving picture, thankfully taking its time to develop the story and characters, though that momentum does sag slightly in the middle section of the movie.
Toni Collette in the lead role is marvellous (channelling Shelley Duvall’s performance in The Shining) as the full weight and trauma of what is happening around her begins to sink its nasty claws in - the overall portrayal of grief, loss and trauma is excellently captured in the performances and writing. Elsewhere, Alex Wolff is solid and Milly Shapiro is creepy as anything as the younger child.
For all of the great work in the movie, the finale didn’t fully work for me. Though the movie had been building towards it, it still felt a bit...rushed. Sometimes “tell, don’t show” works best. Elements felt like Aster opted for convention over quality, which is a shame as the mystery that was built up deserved a stronger resolution. As mentioned, the pacing in the middle of the movie is slightly awry but picks up again soon after.
Hereditary certainly earns the moniker of ‘disturbing’ as certain moments will shake you in your seat and remain scorched into your brain for days after. Led by a fearless performance from Collette, the movie has a good narrative and a superb atmosphere hovering over it. Unfortunately, the ending lets it down and at times, the story wavers somewhat. However, this is a powerful movie that will affect you one way or another. Hereditary is certainly not The Exorcist – far from it – but it is nasty, heavy and compelling – and a very decent horror movie.
June 16th 2018