Directed by Ari Aster.
Starring Toni Collette, Milly Shapiro, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, and Ann Dowd.
After the family matriarch passes away, a grieving family is haunted by tragic and disturbing occurrences, and begin to unravel dark secrets.
Hereditary currently sits on a 92% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and an average score of 8.9/10 from top critics. However, its audience score indicates that only 58% of people liked it, and it has a rather lacklustre D+ on Cinemascore. Why? Do audiences just not get Ari Aster’s debut feature length film? Probably not; it’s not nearly as confusing as other may have you believe, though its ending is a little abrupt. Were critics just paid off by ‘the man’? Even less likely. Was it because the film’s marketing sold potential audiences a film that doesn’t actually exist? Now we’re getting somewhere.
Before I begin properly, I must stress that this is not going to be my usual review. I’m not going to break down the film’s key elements and critique them. If you want more of that, we have other excellent reviews on the site that you can read here , here and here. And if you really want to get my brief synopsis of the film, it goes something like this: Hereditary is a slickly directed, visually unique film with absolutely stellar performances throughout. Though the music isn’t half as interesting as people have made it out to be (see the musical project Nurse with Wound and tell me again how revolutionary playing the saxophone in a horror soundtrack is) it’s still effective. The wide shots and hidden features of the set are great tools – they remind me a little bit of the hidden faces in Lake Mungo – but overall the horror aspect of the film is underwhelming, at times laughable, whereas the drama and tragedy is real and impactful.
There, that’s it. Now, let me tell you how to watch this film so that you don’t end up disappointed.
Firstly, know that Hereditary is not “The next Exorcist,” nor is it “liable to haunt audiences for years to come”. As far as pure terror goes, Hereditary is a middling affair. It’s often tense, perhaps even unnerving, but rarely is it scary. I don’t just mean it isn’t scary for audiences, I mean it isn’t even really scary for the characters. Until act three, there really is little in the way of implied danger, due to the lack of pay off at the end of most tense scenes. You can hint at the existence of the supernatural all you want, but it’s hard to be frightened of a deceased if they do nothing to the living.
Secondly, let the film mull over in your mind before you pass judgement. I haven’t seen Hereditary twice yet, but I know I didn’t take in all the film had to offer in one sitting, and I expect that like The Witch, I’ll probably enjoy it more the second time around.
Finally, research the mythology after you’ve seen the film. It’ll help fill in some of the blanks you may draw first time around.
So how should you see the film? As a very moving family drama, that’s how. The film only really becomes a horror in its final act, but for the hour and a half that precede that, it is a harrowing tragedy. The film depicts loss and the crippling grief that follows it. However, unlike 2014’s The Babadook, which uses its creature as a metaphor, Hereditary’s supernatural elements act in parallel to the grief, which is shown much more bluntly. This takes some of the punch out of the horror, but leaves the tragedy unscathed. You could also think of it this way: Hereditary asks what would happen if a grieving family was haunted, whereas The Babadook asks what it would be like to be haunted by your grief. From a horror perspective, the second is far more interesting.
Fortunately, if you watch Hereditary as if it is a tragedy, its horror climax should feel fresher than if you go in with the hype of hundreds of critics behind you. You also won’t fall into the trap of expecting to see a film that doesn’t exist, like I did.
Overall, Hereditary is an excellent, horrific tragedy that was sold as a horror film, even though its horror aspects are comparatively mediocre. A marketing blunder shouldn’t take away from the quality of the film, hence why my score won’t reflect that, but unfortunately it does take away from its impact. Go in with measured expectations and save your love for horror for the film’s closing act, and you should have a good time. Buy into the terror hype, and you’ll just find yourself laughing.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
James Turner is a writer and musician based in Sheffield. You can follow him on Twitter @JTAuthor