Hereditary is Not the New ‘Exorcist’ or ‘The Shining’, but it has its Moments
Writer And Director: Ari Aster
Producers: Kevin Frakes, Buddy Patrick, Lars Knudsen
Introducing Milly Shapiro
Production: Finch Entertainment, Palm Star Media, Windy Hill Pictures
It always irks me when advertising on a horror movie calls it the scariest movie ever made, or the next ‘Exorcist’ or ‘The Shining’ or whatever sub-genre it’s close to, as I know it will never live up to the hype. I love horror, and have been watching it and studying it for a good chunk of my life, I even do a more than a month-long event on this site called Halloween Extravaganza aimed at exploring the classics and signal boosting the gems. If there is one thing I’ve learned in all my years involved with the genre it’s this simple fact: your mileage may vary. Everyone has a different irrational fear or paranoia that gets to them more than others, and very few movies have been able to tap into the collective fears of an entire country. It’s why The Exorcist, The Shining, Psycho, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre ’74 are spoken of with such reverence. Hereditary, while still a good, scary ride, is not worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as the ones mentioned above.
Annie Graham, a miniature artist, has just lost her mother, who was mentally unwell and abusive to the whole family (except the youngest child, daughter Charlie). In the weeks after the funeral, Annie has some strange visions and Charlie starts acting odd. Things really start to go off the rails when a family squabble lead to an unspeakable tragedy. Fortunately, Annie meets a woman who supports her in her time of crisis, and may have given her a means of communication with the dead. As things escalate, Annie’s state of mind begins to be called into question.
That is as spoiler free as I can get a short synopsis, but it’s not like the secret of this film is hard to unravel, in fact, here are some good things before I get to what hurt this movie: The direction is fantastic, crating atmosphere with great cinematography. The way they play with miniatures and the real world is very interesting, and serves to psych out the audience by foreshadowing scenes that might or might not happen. The tragedy is a swerve I did not see coming. the immediate aftermath is realistically played, and the family guilt over what was in essence a one in a million accident is some of the most hard hitting stuff in the movie. What worked for me in terms of scares were the things that hit me where I live… my irrational fears of feeling like I’m not really alone, and window creepers (looking out the window and finding something unspeakable ala Kojima’s PT). Now I know these are irrational, but sometimes I’ll be turning out a light and thinking “wouldn’t it be weird if I turned around and there was someone there?” Then I’ll become extremely paranoid because I put myself in that mindset. There are moments in this film that hit that nerve where my fears seem justified.
With that done, what really hurt this movie was the script, while I appreciate its slow burn and the subtlety of a good portion of it’s scares, this is a very derivative movie. I kept getting taken out of the movie by realizing, “Oh, that’s where they were inspired by ‘The Shining'”, or “Okay, that is a direct homage to ‘The Ammityville Horror”. In fact I figured out what the big secret of the film in the first five minuets because Annie’s first lines of dialogue are so cliched with this kind of movie it totally blew the swerve. Another problem is Toni Collette. She is wonderful when she’s playing Annie as confused about how to deal with the death of her mother, or playing the simmering resentment between Annie and Peter, but once she gets to the point where you’re supposed to question Annie’s sanity, she way overacts and kind of ruins it.
That being said, like a lot of other A24 productions even if it’s not great, it’s still presented in an interesting and engaging way. While you’ll be disappointed if you believe the hype, if you go in expecting just a pretty good horror movie with a pretty unnerving last five minuets, I think you’ll like it.