'Hereditary' Movie Review
Ari Aster's feature length debut stands as one of the most unsettling horror films in years.
Released: 15th June 2018 (UK)
Length: 127 Minutes
Director: Ari Aster
Starring: Toni Collette, Milly Shapiro, Alex Wolff, Gabriel Byrne and Ann Dowd
In recent years, horror cinema has begun to move away from the formulaic jump-scare fests and more towards genuine, palpable scares. With Hereditary, director Ari Aster makes her feature-length debut, to truly unsettling results.
The film begins with the funeral of Ellen Graham, an estranged grandmother who drove herself apart from her daughter Annie (Toni Collette) by dabbling in questionable religious topics. From here, strange occurrences begin to grip the family particularly the youngest child Charlie (Milly Shapiro) begin to take shape and following a second tragedy, Annie, her husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) and son Peter (Alex Wolff) begins to spiral downwards with the onset of strange supernatural occurrences and so the terror begins, unfolding from the perspective of different family members and a few supporting characters. Hereditary has been called the modern generation’s Exorcist and experiencing it hammers that point home. This is a grim and often unnerving production that relies on slow build-up more than graphic imagery to shock the viewer. Information is gradually revealed as tensions in the family rise and as this happens, the realm of reality and that of the spiritual gradually blurs. It operates on a very slow pace, gradually building up to a stunning climax; this ends up being a double-edged sword. On the one hand, when the frights do erupt, they hit with such a vicious and visceral smash that very few audiences will ignore them, but on the other, slower scenes and interactions between characters do slow the film down at points. However, the film’s steadfast commitment to shocking the audience does redeem this issue somewhat.
The cast of Hereditary is reduced in size, yet great across the board, with many emotionally charged performances that really get across the dire situations the family finds themselves in. Toni Collette is easily the best of the bunch, having to get across the sheer aghast emotions that come with grief and as things go on, she only gets more unhinged. Alex Wolff is also great as Peter; going through the adolescent stage, he’s very flawed as a person and the choices he makes often end up exacerbating the family relationships to one another. The father of the family Steve may be more disconnected from the family’s struggles, but he acts as a more realistic anchor to the proceedings, seemingly the least affected by the tribulations. One problem I had with the cast is that Charlie, the catalyst for all the horrors that follow is underused. More detail could have been committed to her own relationship with her grandmother and therefore weave the three generations together a lot more. Given that she’s often a centrepiece of the horror, Milly Shapiro could have gotten more across here. It’s the only rough spot in an array of stellar performances.
Equally impressive are the film’s technical details, which make full use of the genre to give off a wholly unsettling presentation. The camerawork matches the pacing; slowly and tentatively panning around the environments and gradually inching the audience towards the next scare. This works brilliantly for suspense-building and the music only enhances this; at one moment it’s tense and foreboding and the next it’s culminating in an incredibly stressful climax, pulling you unrelentingly into its creepier moments. The horror itself, without giving anything away, is one-part hallucination and the other supernatural; as the line between the two come closer together, the sense of insecurity and uneasiness grows before accelerating to a stunning climax in the film’s decisive moments. The setting of countryside Michigan only adds to the tension as the characters are for the most part, isolated from wider society. It all adds up to an often-terrifying mood that enhances the already powerful performances on display.
Hereditary is another creative horror film that won’t sit well with everyone; at many points it reminded me of last year’s Mother! from Darren Aronofsky with its slower pacing and often controversial subject matter. The palpable atmosphere and ratcheting of tension simply cannot be ignored; if you’re in for a fright, Hereditary will deliver in a way few horror films can.
Rating: 4/5 Stars (Great)