An Unsettling Reality – Hereditary, a Review

hereditary poster

Title: Hereditary (2018)

Written by: Ari Aster

Directed by: Ari Aster

Starring: Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Milly Shapiro, Alex Wolff

I’ve been meaning to start doing movie write-ups and reviews for a while. I’ve also been meaning to check out Hereditary for a while. Last night, I finally watched Hereditary and I had quite a few thoughts about it so it seemed like a natural time to start writing.

Hereditary has been on my radar for a long time. I feel like for months all I’ve heard is people rave and gush about it. That it’s one of the most finely crafted horror movies in recent memory. That it’s beyond unsettling and unnerving, and die-hard horror hounds have been left shaking with their blood gone cold after watching it. I could scarcely remember the last time a movie burned through viewers with such insidious intent. Curiously enough I think it was The Witch, which also happened to be distributed by A24.

At any rate, while I try to not be compelled by outside influence, I have to say my expectations were set pretty high. The praise for Hereditary has been nothing short of effusive. It’s kind of weird. But I couldn’t way to settle in and push play.

Fast forward 127 minutes.

Hereditary is certainly something. Maybe I cursed myself. Maybe I set myself up to fail, half-believing and buying into the hype like I so often try to avoid. Don’t get my wrong. Hereditary is a good movie, an interesting movie, and it offers a whole lot to appreciate, dissect, and discuss. But is it a rapturous, transcendental feat of horror cinema that will haunt my every waking moment for weeks to come?

Unfortunately no.

The movie does a good job of hitting the ground running and establishes a strange pace that at times seems to sprawl, and at other times to crawl. The music, sound design, and cinematography are exceptional in that regard and combine to create an undercurrent of tension that threads the full run-time, and is perhaps Hereditary’s strongest accomplishment. Even in the small and quiet moments, there is a kind of dreadful anticipation. Moments swell and recede, swell and recede into each other.

For the most part it’s the moments that lead up to the actual scares that work best for the movie. The horror itself, when it comes, is certainly surprising. As is the true plot at the heart of the story, which I have to admit I didn’t see coming–but certainly makes all the comparisons to The Exorcist make a lot more sense. At no point, though, does Hereditary relent in its efforts to get under your skin, though.

Stand out performances from all the main cast anchor the story, and give weight–if not any kind of actual credibility–to even the most outlandish scenes. Its the actors, and their characters, who turn this movie more from a horror to a study of a family in the midst of a truly terrible downward spiral. Collette and Wolff in particular embrace the tragedy of their falling apart. Shapiro is remarkably believable and not a little disturbing, and Byrne’s stoic father is an interesting counter-point to all the madness surrounding him.

Unfortunately, it’s somewhere in the final third of the film where things take a turn, and it deals with the unveiling of the horror surrounding the beleaguered family’s true nature. In part, this is due to a lopsided kind of build-up. We come to find out there’s a whole lot more going on than meets the eye, obviously, but are given only hints as to the grander and more monstrous scheme of things. That the evil in place has been there long before the story actually picked up. I was left feeling as if not only did the movie itself begin in media res but that it was actually missing something. It feels like what we get in Hereditary is a slice of a larger piece. I want what came before, and even more than that I want to know what comes after.

Because the ending takes everything that has come before and shunts it directly into the realm of supernatural, occult fantasy and absolutely runs with it. Suddenly the world is magical and diabolic and there are unseen forces at work, and there are cults conspiring with otherworldly powers. It’s a hell of note to end things on, pardon my saying.

Hereditary is a good bit of horror. What it gets right, it gets really right. Its tone and style are exceptional, its characters wrench equally at the gut and heart. Where it seems to struggle is with the story itself. A lot can be said for leaving things up to the observer, but it feels like too much is being left up to the viewer to fill in.

While I will definitely recommend Hereditary as a great example of modern horror, it falls a bit short of its own hype and misses the mark of its own expectations. What it promises, it doesn’t quite seem to deliver and leaves you wanting just a little bit more than it can give.


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