Directed by Ari Aster.
Starring Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd and Gabriel Byrne.
After the death of her secretive mother, Annie Graham and her family are subjected to a series of increasingly horrific events that threaten destroy her and her family.
The relationship between a mother and her children is often thought of as a simple one. Mother loves child and vice versa. Some mother/child relationships are complicated, with love on one end being met be bitterness and resentment from the other. This unnecessarily dramatic introduction brings me to today’s film; last years critically acclaimed, audience polarising horror drama Hereditary, a dark and unsettling depiction of just how dark and bloody twisted the maternal bond can get.
Hereditary is part of the current trend of horror films that are big hits with the critics, garnering all kinds of declarations about it being “the scariest film ever” or “one of the best horror films ever”. Many times when you see this kind of critical praise, the reaction of the general film-going public is one of division, with some agreeing with the critics and others not so much.
Part of why I think it perhaps didn’t catch on is because Hereditary is not the kind of film that you expect it to be. With trailers that suggested a relentless onslaught of terror, it’s something of a surprise to find that film itself is something very different.
Instead, Hereditary is a film that, like a many before it, uses horror as a cloak to wrap around what is arguably (at least for most of the film) more of a domestic drama. In this case, it’s a drama about a grieving woman and her struggle to keep it together for her family. It’s a tragic story that, I feel at least, perfectly captures the anguish and pain that we all feel when we suffer a painful loss, either of a family member or a friend, and the feelings of guilt and wish to assign blame that could arise from it.
The film’s dramatic core is complimented perfectly by the film’s mostly low key and subtle approach to its horror elements. For instance, let’s quickly talk about the use of jump scares. I have very mixed feelings about jump scares. Sometimes they work fine when the build-up is good, but use them too much and they become tiresome. In the case of Hereditary, the jump scares work because there are so few of them that you can count them on one hand. And they happen with such irregularity (often going a full half-hour or so between them) that you often don’t see them coming which makes the shock ever more effective.
The film’s horror works so well because instead of bombarding us with a constant onslaught of jump scares, we instead have a dense and unpleasant atmosphere that leaves you with a tight knot in your stomach, either because something sudden and shocking has happened or because you know that something really horrible is hiding in the corner.
When the film does move into jump scare territory, it does it with such irregularity that you’ll often find yourselves being genuinely surprised and, in more than a few moments, disturbed because of how they sneak up one you without you even noticing. A nightmare sequence that threatens us with the prospect of sudden immolation is a particularly terrifying highlight, mainly because we don’t know it’s a nightmare until it ends.
While you might not like the film itself, what is undeniable is the sheer brilliance Toni Collette in a performance that I honestly feel was unfairly snubbed by the Oscars.
Collette is phenomenal in a haunting portrayal of a woman pushed to the edge of madness by her overwhelming grief, perfectly replicating the wild gambit of emotional states that one might go through in her situation, shifting from howling anguish and into a deep depression with subtlety. Collette, as her madness intensifies, is also capable of being terrifying, with one particular rant in which she proclaims ‘I AM YOUR MOTHER!!’ being a genuinely frightening moment with the actress’s fury, anguish and pain evident in the vicious snarling manner in which she berates her child.
Despite the praise that this film has gotten, including, as you can tell, from me, the film is not without its flaws. Well, one big one if you ask me; the ending. Without spoiling too much, I’ll just say that for a film that performs so strongly for most of its runtime, it’s disappointing to see it come to an end in such weird, cliched and unintentionally hilarious manner.
Hereditary, despite my praise, is still likely to polarise viewers for years to come. However, with arguably one of the most exceptional performances ever given in a horror film, a suffocating atmosphere and a mostly successful slow-burning melding of horror with drama, Hereditary is still a fantastic film that is ideal for those looking for something a little bit different.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★/ Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★