Movie Review: “Hereditary” – Twisty, Turny, Crazy

Written by Jeremiah Greville June 18, 2018

Hereditary (2018)

Though it technically received a wide release, Hereditary continues to feel like an indie film only your cool friends will ever see. Maybe you’ve caught a trailer or heard a friend talk about how scary it is. Maybe you’ve seen the poster. Perhaps it’s even playing in a theatre near you. It’s a movie fueled by good buzz and recommendations, but very little marketing. Part of this is due to the nature of the film itself — it’s difficult to describe or review, with or without spoilers. The experience of Hereditary is one truly unique in mainstream horror. But let’s be clear: this is the mainstream now. While Hereditary is a fabulous and flabbergasting film, it is still a horror film. And as such, this review will avoid spoilers to maintain the horror experience as much as possible.

Hereditary stars Toni Collette (Annie – Mother), Gabriel Bryne (Steve – Father), Milly Shapiro (Charlie – Daughter), and Alex Wolff (Peter – Son). These four play members of an upper-middle class family in Utah dealing with the recent loss of a loved one. Their pain, and the resulting family drama, is further exacerbated by a supernatural force that haunts the family in their time of grief. Annie supports her family through her work as a miniaturist artist, making dollhouse facsimiles of her life. From there, the movie is off and running. To say more would spoil the fun. Yes, there are spoilers (not in this review!) — try to avoid them as much as possible if you can. And yes, there’s plenty of fun, as long as you’re ready for some truly unexpected (and possibly terrifying) turns.

“I just want to die.”

Countless articles have been written about how scary Hereditary is, but don’t let that become a challenge. It’s a mistake to approach this film as some sort of benchmark for horror frights. Don’t go in daring yourself to make it through, or with a combative attitude. (“Pfft, this movie can’t scare me!”) If you’re not scared by most horror films — great! Good for you. If you are — still great! You may be scared, you may not be. Hereditary doesn’t try to frighten you like other horror films — there’s no jump-scare count, no typical horror rhythm. It’s not trying to hide things behind tricky angles or poor effects. The horror of Hereditary is entirely in the unfolding narrative. And the key to enjoying it is in getting invested in that story.

Hereditary (2018)

But here we return to the basic question: is Hereditary scary? Well, it is very scary, yet it’s also not. Confused? That’s okay. Hereditary is a chimera of a film, made up of several recognizable horror tropes. There’s the big dark house, the creepy child, the kindly stranger, the disaffected teenager. Writer-director Ari Aster knows you’ve seen all these things before. In fact, he’s counting on it. This is where the terror of Hereditary comes in. If you’re familiar with horror films then these things won’t scare you on their own. But when Aster takes them in unusual directions, that’s when the magic happens. Hereditary uses your expectations against you. For some, that has little affect. But for many — yes, it can be terrifying.

“You didn’t kill her…she isn’t gone.”

As I mentioned before, most horror movies thrive on a rhythm. The key to the horror genre is a balance between mounting tension and escalating scares. As the tension builds in quiet moments, it’s released in frightening ones, only to build again. This creates the classic horror movie rhythm. Hereditary…doesn’t really do that. While the basic ingredients are there, Hereditary functions more like an indie family drama, focusing on the narrative rather than the structure. This means that many scenes can go by without a single fright, or that many scary moments can happen in quick succession. Again, this is Ari Aster playing with us. Even our expectations surrounding horror movie structure are fair game.

Hereditary (2018)

So it’s fortunate that the narrative is backed by remarkable performances. Toni Collette is fabulous as Annie, and reaches places few actresses dare to go. Her wild turn as a mother suffering through loss is sympathetic and palpable. And when the narrative requires it, Collette makes Annie a force of nature just as unpredictable as the film itself. Milly Shapiro’s startling work as Charlie takes a horror movie standard to new places. She’s the most compelling ‘creepy child’ in years, and is genuinely unsettling on screen. Alex Wolff is surprisingly good as Peter, a young man struggling with his own grief. Like Collette, Wolff’s character is also dragged in unexpected directions, and Wolff is more than up to the challenge of getting him there. The only downside is Gabriel Bryne, who, through no fault of his own, has little to work with on screen.

“I sometimes feel like it’s all ruined.”

Hereditary is an atmospheric film, aided by impeccable set and sound design. Annie’s miniatures provide context and narrative background, but also allow for unique framing opportunities. Several shots look like they’re part of her dollhouses, making you question the reality on screen. Colin Stetson’s
score builds with tension and urgency when it needs to, then disappears for long stretches at a time. Again, this is playing with our expectations. Like Annie’s miniatures, Hereditary is a work of uncommon craftsmanship. Even when you’re not scared, you still appreciate the artistry. But ultimately, you may not be scared. The ending of the film will be divisive for many, and even the audience at my screening had mixed reactions leaving the theatre. Still, the journey there is more than worth it.

Hereditary (2018)

Hereditary is a new horror classic. It stands shoulder-to-shoulder with The Witch and The Babadook, perhaps even a bit taller — sublimely confident, with its chest puffed out. It’s extraordinary to consider that this is Ari Aster’s feature film debut, and Collette’s performance alone is worth the price of admission. But Hereditary won’t scare everyone, and unfortunately there’s no easy way to tell ahead of time. If you like thoughtful horror movies, then definitely check it out. But if you’re heading into the theatre expecting the scariest movie in years, you may leave a bit disappointed. Don’t let expectation ruin an incredible movie experience. Hereditary is worth all of the hype it’s been getting. If you have a chance, have the will, and have a strong stomach, don’t miss it.

My Rating: 8/10

Hereditary (2018) Poster

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About Jeremiah Greville

Jeremiah Greville is a pretty rad beard that's attached itself to a human face. The beard likes movies, television, comic books, and gentle finger rubs. The human likes pizza and sleep. When they work together, they write reviews. Hope you enjoy them!

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