2018 was a great year for horror movies, and Hereditary stood out as a highlight for many genre fans. I was a bit slow to getting around to this movie but was finally able to, and I can certainly understand the hype.
Hereditary finds us with Annie and her family on the day of her mother’s funeral. Through her eulogy and then later scenes we find that Annie had a complicated relationship with her mother and that her mother was possibly involved in some not so pleasant things. We also discover that mental health has been an issue in Annie’s family and that Annie bears a bit of that mark as well. Without too many spoilers Annie begins to fall apart, and it leads down a path of contacting spirits and finding out just what Annie’s mother was into, most of it centering on evil rituals and worship of a demon. Annie, seemingly accidentally, has continued her mother’s work and her family suffers the consequences for it.
Hereditary is often compared to The Witch, from the same studio, and I think on the surface it’s a fair comparison. Both movies focus on the terror facing a family and are slow builds to an ultimate climax. Once again we are discussing this framework for horror movies, though this time I think Hereditary does a much better job than others that choose a similar path, including The Witch.
The climax of Hereditary is pretty stunning. It’s creepy, uncomfortable, terrifying, and kept me tense throughout. What helps this movie is that it is never as slow as The Witch was. While there are few pow moments until the end, there are some, and they serve the movie well. Hereditary is pretty chilling from start to finish and includes a lot of suspense and tension and a few scares to help us through to the end.
The movie is also excellently shot. It never feels overwrought as some more “artsy” films can, but some great moments set it apart from more standard horror movies. It is visually impressive, and Ari Aster did an excellent job of using the camera as well as the content to add to the discomfort of the audience. In addition to that, the sound design is on point.
Also helping Hereditary is its outstanding performances, especially Toni Collette. Many have argued that she is being snubbed in nominations because Hereditary is a horror film, and I am officially adding my name to that list. She does an amazing job in this movie, and her character is complicated swinging from someone we sympathize with to someone we hate as we learn more about her and her past. Alex Wolff and Gabriel Byrne deserve more credit for their performances as well. Both of them serve as support for Toni Collette but do a great job as well.
Most things about this movie, to me, come together to create one of the more disturbing horror experiences. If I had to name a weak point, it’s in the story. It is far from a poor story, rather good in fact, it’s more that it’s not as developed as I think it should have been. There are a few plot holes as well as some missteps with pacing. The horror of what is happening to the family becomes the main focus, which is not bad, other than the fact that the reasons why almost seem to be ignored until they are rushed through at the end. Again it’s not bad, it’s just a definite weak spot in an otherwise fantastic movie.
Yet, as much as I and many other fans praise it, the movie did get some pretty bad reactions. I can’t speak to why other people responded the way they did, I am not them. I do think that this type of slow build, suspense heavy horror movie is hit or miss with a lot of people. Some people want more pow and that is fine, but it means movies like this generally aren’t for them. I do think that the issues mentioned above with the story might have bothered some people as well. It’s all well and good to be visually stunning with a terrifying climax, but if people can’t get into the story, then it will remain a sore spot for many of them.
I only mention the poor reaction because it is a reality. Some people love this movie, some people hate it, a lot of people felt it was eh. I am firmly in the love category. I think it was so well done and amazingly acted, and the climax truly scared me, which is what I want from a horror film, to be scared.
So bottom line? I don’t like to overly compare this movie to The Witch, but I think it’s a good base point for deciding if you want to watch it. Did you hate The Witch? While I don’t believe Hereditary is as slow as The Witch (and is a better movie overall) hating it -or most slower paced horror movie- does not bode well for Hereditary. From there I leave it up to you. Do you think it’s worth trying even if you don’t tend to like those types of movies or not? For people that love movies like The Witch, I think you’ll enjoy this one quite well. I did find it to be a standout but understand that tastes vary and not everybody will, especially given the nature of the content.
I do want to add that I entirely reject anyone that says it’s a bad movie, it’s not. It’s not a movie for everybody, and it does again have issues with story and pacing, it is not bad though. It is a visually stunning well acted chilling movie, and those involved deserve credit for what they did. It was also Ari Aster’s directorial debut, and I cannot wait to see what he brings us in the future.
Also, nominate Toni Collette for a best actress award damn it!