People who call Hereditary “The Exorcist for a new generation” must have balls of steel to make such a claim. Don’t get me wrong, I can see why many people and critics and draw that comparison, but to set Hereditary’s standards to the same level as one of the greatest horror films of all time is placing the bar way high. I anticipated this eventuality and allowed myself not to be influenced by critic’s opinions, I wanted to see the skills of the debuting director Ari Aster and what fresh horror elements he could play with and manipulate. Even with my managed expectation, Hereditary still managed to tell a beautifully crafted experience and just from the opening scenes alone, you can tell a lot of careful consideration has been put into Hereditary with the sole purpose of making you afraid.
I would love to shake Ari Aster’s hand for a magnificent directorial debut. This is someone who understands that characters are the framework for a purpose fulfilling film. just like any other genre if the characters aren’t worthy of our attention, why should we care what happens to them. What Hereditary explores is how grief is able to destroy an already broken family. Away this grief is explored is the top of their game performances for all those involved, Toni Collette’s performance as the mother Annie is something special. You don’t just simply forget a performance like hers because of how she can express her character’s grief from somber to mental breakdown levels.
Alex Wolff plays the son Peter who also gives the performance of his career. What makes his performance so special is when grief begins to hit him, there is one scene where something happens that he feels guilty of and the camera stays with his face capturing each stage of realization, no dialogue, no big sounds. Not only does this kind of camerawork show a fantastic facial performance from Alex Wolff, but it also gives pedigree to a director and cinematographer who knew they shouldn’t cut away from a performance like this.
Speaking of cutting away, the editing and sound design are fantastically put together and are used to compensate for one another. Several times, the film moves on from a tense scene by very slowly fading to the next, by doing this we are not suddenly jolted from the suspense, that intensity carry’s on until the previous scene has completely dissolved. Once you’ve snappily cut away, the suspense is cut away with it, the ordeal for the audience is over, they then feel the need to relax. Hereditary never gives you that feeling to relax, it has you always looking onward and becoming fearful of what will happen next.
The film uses the miniature model sets that Annie makes and incorporates it into a deeper look into her characters mental state, in a few instances they are used in the editing as clever means of transitioning. The miniatures are such a fantastic way of exploring a character’s psyche and work perfectly with the building up nature of Hereditary.
I have seen a particular trend in horror of films with horror elements where people have created videos or articles that go along the lines of “ending explained/theory” or “things you missed in”. These occur when a film is larger than itself, however this only works if the narrative feels like it is building up to a bigger picture. In this case, Hereditary is quite contained at the beginning so I imagined this would be a simple yet devourable narrative. However, the film seems to take its built-up atmosphere in the closing scenes and decided to shove it out of a way for a mystery where it feels like we’re only just now discovering the pieces that needed to be discovered way before then.
It was perfectly acceptable to have a simple story in Hereditary, I was more engaged when it was, however, once it attempts to be larger than life, the confused faces begin as the audience has to recall moments we brushed away because we were too focused on the characters’ personal struggles rather than solving a mystery. The amount of exposition that got thrown at the audience during these moments was very overwhelming, I thought they could have been spread a lot better, in dumping exposition it draws attention away from the now. What’s happening on the screen should be the focus rather then what happened on the screen.
I’ve seen The Exorcist, The Shining, Psycho all those films where it relies on the build-up and suspense to create fear. These films are in a league way above Hereditary and ultimately what weighs Hereditary down in a weak, complex ending. However, everything before that genuinely felt like we were watching a masterclass of horror creativity. The imagery is sickening in a good way, Ari Aster has created some of the most horrifying scenes this year and this is from a debut feature, just imagining what he could do next is remarkably euphoric. if there were more crafted scares like those in Hereditary in horror, the genre could be set for another golden age.
Final result: 8/10 – Very Good
Have you seen Hereditary? What did you think? Please let me know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below
Next Time: Ocean’s 8