Movie Review: Hereditary
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Director: Ari Aster
Writer: Ari Aster
by Jason Koenigsberg
Have you ever wondered how much of your success or failures are built on your genetic makeup? How much of a role do your genes play in who you are and what you become? It is something that you cannot alter and follows you around wherever you go. Your greatest weaknesses and fears could be embedded in who you are and haunt you. That is what makes the new horror film Hereditary so diabolically frightening. We cannot change some aspects of who we are and where we come from. We do not get to pick our family and the baggage that comes with it and are forced to live and make the best of the sins of our parents.
The film opens up with an obituary and some dark ominous music followed by a shot of a treehouse framed outside of a window. The camera then pans across the room past a lot of dioramas, art supplies, and doll houses eventually centering in on a bedroom in the doll house where we see a teenage son sleeping in the bed and his father comes in and wakes him up. The opening shot is a long one and has brilliant use of framing and those long takes and that shot construction continues throughout the rest of Hereditary. The opening shot seems to say that this movie is about life imitating art and vice versa. This movie does have a lot to say about art but even more to say as an allegory about the pain and harm families cause each other. The main plot involves a family of four, grieving the loss of their matriarch figure and mother to the main character played by Toni Collette. Her husband and the father figure is played by Gabriel Byrne and they have two children, a 17 year old son and a 13 year old daughter. We learn early on that Toni Collette’s character had a very strained relationship with her recently deceased mother and their problems have bled into her relationships with other members of their family. For most of its run time Hereditary is more of a powerful family drama with a supernatural twist than an actual horror movie. But when it tries to be scary, the thrills are more than effective. The last twenty minutes are relentless as the mood gets extremely unnerving and intense as the thrills pile on top of each other.
Writer/director Ari Aster can direct terror but he also really knows how to get great performances from his actors. The always reliable Toni Collette is used perfectly in her role as a grieving and overwhelmed mother and so is Ann Dowd as her friend she meets at a self-help group for people who have lost loved ones. Their performances should be considered come awards season but probably will not be since horror movies are rarely recognized for their acting. Hereditary paints a very cynical portrait of an upper-middle class family. Everyone in the household lies to each other and keeps secrets from one another, most of which come back to haunt them. This is the type of film that demands a second and third watch because the audience will undoubtably notice a lot of symbolism and foreshadowing on subsequent viewings.
The melodrama does drag a little long in the middle, but that is the lone weakness of an otherwise terrific and very personal film. The acting and sets are both top notch. The eerie sense of dread and scares used sparingly during the first ninety minutes are effective and then the last act is absolutely fierce, gonzo horror with thrills guaranteed to make even the most steel nerved viewer feel uneasy in his seat. But to reiterate, the best part of Hereditary is what it says about family. How we inadvertently hurt the ones we love so much and how horrible and hopeless we can feel from the people we are closest to. Families suffer for the sins of their parents and grandparents and it is a vicious cycle that is very tough to break. Few horror films also serve as such a profound cry for help to remind us that we need to love and cherish those closest to us.