Hereditary - 2018
Director(s): Ari Aster
Writer(s): Ari Aster
Cinematography by: Pawel Pogorzelski
Editor(s): Lucian Johnston and Jennifer Lame
Cast: Alex Wolff, Gabriel Byrne, Toni Collette, Milly Shapiro and Ann Dowd
Synopsis: When the matriarch of the Graham family passes away, her daughter's family begins to unravel cryptic and increasingly terrifying secrets about their ancestry (IMDB).
Ok, I’ll be upfront as to who I am as a horror fan. I love horror movies, but more like a bystander enjoying the fact people around are scared. I’m the guy laughing at his scared wife walking through a haunted house on Halloween. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a well-constructed horror movie, as a movie lover, but it’s been years since I have been scared at the theater. Tie that to the fact that Hereditary has been on the hype train since Sundance, being billed – like many before it – the best horror movie in decades. So, fair to say I was coming in hesitant and expecting to be underwhelmed. As I write this review with many lights turned on, drinking a very strong glass of alcohol, it’s fair to say that the hype was very well deserved.
Quick note: it may not seem like it, but I’m trying not to over-hype this movie.
The story centers around a family going through a grieving process. Annie, played by the perfectly unhinged Toni Collette, lost her distant, reclusive mother and confines herself to her art - miniature models of certain moments of her life. Her children, Charlie and Peter (Milly Shapiro and Alex Wolff), try to go about their lives as normal, with Charlie finding it hard to let go. As the movie starts to veer towards an Omen type of story-line, it takes a dark and unexpected turn, taking us head first down one of the most unnerving, visceral and just simply uncomfortable experiences I’ve had in a theater in a long time. It’s like a punch to the gut… but, you know, in a good way.
This is the feature-film debut of writer-director Ari Aster and where he lacks in 100% originality (some horror tropes are leaned on, but it’s to be expected), he more than makes up for on the unrelenting tension woven in through the runtime. This is a cinematic crescendo at its worst. Aster trusts the audience to stick with this dysfunctional and emotionally raw family as they have shouting matches just as scary as the nightmares Peter is having. While there are some jump scares, they aren’t overplayed or unjustified as the story beats fall into place naturally. This is a very well-written film that feels like the baby of Rosemary’s Baby and Don’t Look Now, that was raised by The Shining.
Quick note: Aster also planted a lot of seeds, both visually and spoken, that pay off huge dividends in the end. Something that makes me want to watch it again even more just to pick up on the things I missed.
Aster and cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski utilized the atmosphere to their full advantage. The camera work is slow and methodical, making the audiences imaginations run wild as they are shifting in their seats waiting to see what’s at the end of this long hallway. How long is this hallway!? Most of the scenes are shot on a wide, making the audience study every single corner of the room, waiting for something to happen. Despite this movie being set inside of a house that is surrounded by nature, it feels that something is completely off, almost an uncanny-valley feel to their surroundings. This is due to Annie’s art of miniature model making as it starts to bleed through the set design and props as if the characters are living inside one of her meticulously re-created life events.
Quick note: Now that I mentioned the set and the props I should give a shout-out to Brian Lives, set decorator, Grace Yun, production design and Steve Newburn, makeup / model and miniature designer. Without them this movie isn’t half as good looking.
The acting across the board is top notch. Gabriel Byrne plays a detached, tired and overwhelmed husband on his last rope as he tries to keep his sanity together against what he sees as a mental breakdown of his wife. Milly Shapiro gives a subdued performance with very specific mannerisms that pay off towards the later parts of the movie. Alex Wolff is put through the ringer and managed to come out on top. Not all of his scenes were homeruns, but Wolff is asked to do a lot and delivered for the most part with his desperate, depressed and broken blank stares as he really has no idea what to do. But, this movie is a whirlwind of screams, tears, pain and at times manic joy from Toni Collette. Her performance elevates this movie and there are multiple scenes where her emotions are so raw and unfiltered that it made me shift in my seat. She will be talked about come award season.
Quick note: the score of this movie adds to the atmosphere as it’s ever present in the back of your head never letting you get fully relaxed, reminding you that something is off and you shouldn’t trust that things will be ok.
Hereditary is a great entry in the horror genre. While it relies on horror tropes and beats, it gives the genre a breath of dread and tension sorely missing in a jump scare heavy catalog of late. There are sequences that will make you think of possible outcomes that never come and other sequences that you are happy that it finally happened, making you thankful that you can let go of the ball of tension you carried for the last couple of minutes. Toni Collette’s screams and pain is seared into my head along with the clucking of the tongue from our young Milly Shapiro. Horror genre as of late seems to be the best platform for young passionate directors to make their debut, helping audiences once again see this genre as an artform and not a cheap jump scare. All the elements implemented through the runtime lead to a crescendo that leaves the audiences with a weird taste in their mouth, that will be hard to wash-out for a while. Toni Collette is why I love movies.
Hereditary is currently playing in theaters. Go watch it and take the family!
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