Directed by: Ari Aster
Premise: A woman (Toni Collette) who has suffered several tragic losses confronts her family history of dysfunction and violence. She suspects that something supernatural is haunting her family but it may be a delusion.
What Works: Hereditary is both beautifully made and very scary. The film is well shot with carefully framed images and deliberate camera movement. Filmmakers communicate a lot through the way they compose an image and in horror films like Hereditary fear is instilled in the viewer by the angle of the camera and the use of lighting and negative space. Hereditary does this very effectively and the filmmakers establish and maintain an atmosphere of dread that runs through the entire picture. It’s an impressively well-crafted film but in a way that is often subtle and the filmmakers don’t overplay their hand and tip us off to a coming scare. Hereditary gets under the viewer’s skin early on and stays there for the duration. It does things that are unexpected partly by mixing different genres together. Part of the movie involves a séance gone wrong, something we’ve seen in supernatural pictures before, but the filmmakers take the story in different directions and Hereditary is that all too rare experience in moviegoing – viewers will have no idea where this story is going next. That’s thrilling and scary and the film delivers with some great and unexpected twists. Hereditary is primarily the story of a family being pulled apart by tragedy and it has some terrific performances. The film is led by Toni Collette as the mother. Her character has just lost her own parent and then suffers additional personal tragedies. Collette’s performance takes her to some extreme places and she reveals much in the subtle moments while also delivering on the big and outrageous scenes and making them believable. Alex Wolff is cast as her teenage son. Wolff frequently plays this type of teenage role but in Hereditary Wolff is called to some especially dark places and he and Collette have some intense scenes. The family drama of Hereditary dovetails perfectly into the film’s psychological and supernatural elements and creates a portrait of grief and madness that is distressing in a way that is scary but also packed with emotional resonance.
What Doesn’t: Hereditary is a slow burn horror picture and so it requires a certain amount of patience on the part of the viewer. That patience is rewarded in the second half but viewers who are accustomed to a faster pace might find this movie trying their patience. There is one narrative hiccup in Hereditary. As the story transitions into the climax it feels as though a critical scene is missing. A certain amount of illogic is unavoidable in supernatural movies and often a necessary part of making them scary. But one of the central characters goes through a significant transformation that comes across so radical that the film probably needed an additional scene or two to get the character to that point.
Bottom Line: Hereditary is a very effective horror picture. It may be a little outside the mainstream in the way it refutes our expectations but viewers who stick with it are rewarded by a unique and quite frightening piece of cinema.
Episode: #703 (June 17, 2018)