Honestly, its hard to come up with opening jokes for movie’s this unsettling. Let’s just say I probably won’t be sleeping tonight.
Hereditary (2018) is a horror film written and directed by Ari Aster (directorial debut). It stars Toni Collette as the mother of a dysfunctional family that must deal with increasingly strange occurrences after the death of her mother.
To say any more would be diving into spoilers, this is one film that is well worth experiencing unspoiled. Now the obvious thing worth pointing out amidst this film’s launch is how widely this film has been praised. A ‘new horror masterpiece’ here, a ‘scariest movie of the year’ over there, Hereditary has clearly struck a cord with the critical crowd. And that’s fairly well deserved… but not without a fair share of compromise. While everything on the technical side of Hereditary – the performances, production value, practical effects, camera work, lighting – is truly a sight to behold, at its core is a narrative that cannot live up to the heights of every other facet.
Its odd to say coming from a person who has only recently begun to indulge in the horror genre, but Hereditary‘s plot starts off as compelling as The Babadook and slowly devolves into something I feel like I’ve already seen so many times before. While it would involve far too many spoilers to get through, if you were to narrow down the full plot of this film to a simple logline it would be hard to distinguish from so many other horror films that have lit up the screen in the past decade or so. And its a shame, because while the story itself is poor it’s exceptionally well told. There’s a fantastic attention to detail, some very clever mystery seeding and plays with some truly interesting themes. But ultimately, as the credits rolled, it just left me a little underwhelmed. And coming from the most impactful of all genres, the horror film, that’s not a great sign.
But luckily that’s where the serious negatives end, as the rest of the film deserves all the praise its receiving. For a directorial debut, there is an incredible confidence and direction being shown by Aster and if anything it’s a fantastic sign of what’s to come from this guy’s career. From truly great practical effects to incredibly imaginative visual design and so many memorable shots, every production element in this film swirls together in a concoction that is sure to disgust and disturb even the most ardent film fan. Its powerful direction and manages to elevate a mediocre narrative to something far better than it deserves to be.
And the performances! While the chances of it happening are slim, Toni Collette is Oscar-worthy throughout this entire film. The way her facial expressions and auditory ticks just accumulate and disfigure as the film goes on is a sight to behold and steals the limelight from the production of several occasions. The rest of the cast is almost as fantastic (which would sound like a criticism if Collette wasn’t so great). Milly Shapiro as the young daughter Charlie contributes to some of the most unsettling scenes in the film, Alex Wolff as the older brother Peter steps up considerably from a short-shrifted showing in last year’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and Gabriel Byrne as the increasingly concerned husband Steve doesn’t get a lot of spotlight but is solid when he does.
While the plot may disappoint some (i.e. me and apparently no one else), Hereditary still offers plenty to praise. Truly fantastic direction matched with a standout cast elevate what would be mediocre in some movies to something well worth watching. Just don’t go in expecting The Babadook.
General Audiences: Recommended
Film Buffs: Highly Recommended
True Believers (Horror): Highly Recommended