In these film reviews, I take the format of what I knew going into the movie, and what I thought coming out of it…as simple as that.
Warning: Possible Spoilers.
One of the more talked about horror movies of 2018, Hereditary has received wide ranging reviews so far: from those claiming it to be ‘the scariest film since The Exorcist’, to those saying it’s ‘boring’, or even ‘a waste of time’
I know that it starts Toni Collette and Gabriel Byrne, both of whom I have a lot of time for, and that it features a child performance that seems to have been getting good reviews.
I know it’s directed by Ari Aster, but I don’t know any of his other work – I believe this is his debut feature.
I think that it centres around a family in the aftermath of a death in the family and the growing creepiness as they try to come to terms with it. For some reason in my head I’ve got spooky children, and know something about a replica model of some sort. I’m not expecting SAW levels of gore, and I’m hoping it is a move away from musical doorknobs and jump-scares to a more atmospheric, moody chiller.
Well, I think I knew enough about the movie to be correct in my expectations: there was indeed a family death, coming to terms, spooky child and indeed models.
The movie starts with a slow pan in on a home: it’s a kind of Beetlejuice in reverse – albeit in today’s advanced technology with less join. And I think that’s probably where the comparisons to Tim Burton’s movie would end. There are some comparisons to other movies: if I were to describe it as a cocktail I’d probably go 2 parts Ordinary People, 1 part Exorcist, 1 part Wicker Man with a smidgen of Wicker Man…
I can also see why the film was divisive for audiences: it’s long for a horror movie – around 2 hours 10 mins, and there’s a lot of deliberate, if not slow, pacing throughout many scenes within. There’s neither the excessive gore to satisfy the slasher crowd, or the restrain to sit comfortably with the more ‘cerebral’ crowd.
What there is, is good performances from all leads – Toni Collette, as the grieving mother, and Alex Wolff as the guilt-stricken, unraveling son. Gabriel Byrne gets a bit of a thankless role as the stoic father trying to keep things together, and Milly Shapiro has rightly been getting a whole heap of praise as their 13 year old ‘troubled’ daughter.
There’s also some very accomplished writing and directing going on – at times looking more like a ’70’s (filmed or set) family drama (the aforementioned Ordinary People springs to mind, as does Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm) than a modern day horror film.
It’s unfair to say the movie is slow, full stop – it’s not: and there’s a key plot moment early on in the piece that the rest of the film depends on – a surprising, shocking moment which is both a jump shot and much more: it’s there for a reason and it works. It’s after that where scenes drag. In many cases that may sound like a pejorative term, here it’s not meant to be. It drags for the right reasons: the surreal out-of-place feeling the characters are trying to work their way through are done well as they wander around in their own individual hazes.
Where the movie worked best for me was the family drama – the handling of grief, of guilt and of helplessness – you could almost edit out the ‘scary’ moments and be left with an effective horror film of an altogether different kind.
The ‘intended horror’? Eh…not quite so much. There are some creepy set-pieces: effective use of the props, and playing around with the miniaturized set ideas, and the director certainly has a fondness of placing creeping terror in the blurred background of a lot of shots, but there are a number of jump-scares, either via FX or practical shots and those didn’t really do so much for me.
What I did like was the minimization of disbelief of characters’ actions: there’s one scene in particular where Toni Collette’s character has seen something which she asks her disbelieving husband to go and investigate: I almost groaned as I waited for him to come back to say ‘there’s nothing there’, but no, the director doesn’t mess around with that. It’s there alright.
The ending, I understand, has come in for very mixed views and again I can understand why: there are similarities to Ben Wheatley’s 2011 movie Kill List Hereditary lays out the ground work more effectively and ‘earns’ it more, but it still felt to be a little bit of a different movie.
Is Hereditary a stunningly original piece? Well, it’s quite stunning at time, but I don’t think in any fairness it could be described as ‘original’. What is ‘original’ is for a non-gory horror movie with a $10 million budget (so not the @ $1 million – $1.5 million of the likes of Saw, Insidious etc etc), with decent actors in it was able to make more than $80 million (granted, not everyone afterwards was happy about having paid out their cinema money ticket…)
Is it scary? Well yes – but for me not in the areas it was meant to be. The horrors to be found were in the family drama, not the FX.
Was it worth seeing? Sure, and I’m glad I saw it before I knew too much about it, although afterwards, I feel as if I knew a lot about it from a lot of other movies.