Toni Collette and Gabriel Byrne star in an unsettling, exercise in unrelenting tension as a family in the throes of grief encounter unexplainable occurrences following the death of the family matriarch.
Helmed as ‘this generation’s, The Exorcist’ by Time Out New York as shown in the trailer, Hereditary is the latest highly publicised horror offering born into the mainstream consciousness. The language used to market the film, consists of ‘Grips you with real horror’ and ‘A Modern-Day Horror Masterpiece’, instantaneously bleeding into the minds of genre fanatics and general cinema-goers alike that its worth seeing and will result in a profound effect on the viewer.
Much like Get Out (2017) and The Witch (2015); Hereditary is placed on the highest scale of the horror podium open to great acclaim. Audiences are not to expect a sleazy, low-budget, ‘stalk n’ slash’ flick confounded in cheap gore and gratuitous nudity, Hereditary is associated with a breed of recent horror films that should be considered ‘elevated’ from the genre.
The concern is, does this level of initial high acclaim leave a film of this calibre at risk of disappointing its audience? There’s a pressure on the filmmakers, and the studios to deliver the goods with such strong expectations in place. It begs the question, what is so important about this film compared to an assortment of other titles in the same genre? The answer is of course an ingenious marketing strategy.
Hereditary is inescapable in mainstream pop culture, its extensively advertised on television and online, guaranteeing that everyone is talking about it which has proven more wide-spread than solely the horror community. The super clever advertisers have drummed it in into audiences that are averse to the bloodier side of cinema that while, Hereditary displays elements of ‘horror’, it’s in fact a ‘drama’ that explores a family who are coming to terms with their grief. It’s these attitudes, laced in snobbery that gives the false impression that the film is more ‘highbrow’ than it actually is.
From the trailer alone, the concept is shrouded in intrigue, providing an art-house meets unbridled terror vibe. The tone conveys a sense of uncomfortableness and enough shock factor (a child overlooking her dead grandparent, displayed in an open casket, the classroom scene and the incineration of a character in full view of the protagonist) to keep us fastened into our seats curious to discover where exactly this unusual looking film could be heading.
After viewing, Hereditary in the cinema last night, it is safe to say that it is an exceptionally well-made horror film and a masterclass in pure tension. However, that could be said about so many great horror films. Aesthetically and tonally it is reminiscent of 1970’s familial frightmares such as ‘The Omen’ (1976), The Exorcist’ (1973) and the Amityville Horror’ (1979) with its eerie, foreboding and sinister presence.
It’s a terror-inducing creep-fest that intends to provoke its audience to sleep with the lights on and has seemingly achieved this with even the most seasoned horror fans. I can completely understand why through the techniques it employs however fear is so subjective, therefore what is it about this film that is leaving viewers quaking in their boots? Has the hype-train succeeded in implementing the idea that, “you will leave this film feeling scared”? There is certainly a thought-provoking discussion to be had here.
By the by, here are my thoughts on the film:
Hereditary gets its claws into the audience from the offset and does not abandon its grip in the fear stakes. Its narrative is compelling, intricate and no stone is left unturned when it comes to unravelling character backstory. Toni Collette is a powerhouse as traumatized mother, Annie, she delivers a stellar performance, igniting the depths of emotion evoked from the tribulations her character endures. Young performers Alex Wolff as reserved son, Peter and Milly Shapiro as disturbed daughter, Charlie who encompasses an affinity for dead things uphold the film with their dynamic and intense performances which comes across as very believable, given their characters upbringings.
Director Ari Aster in his first genre outing aims to steer Hereditary away from conventional horror tropes while at times embracing them. To his credit he is not dependant on ‘jump scares’ to unsettle his audience and manages to weave them in more subtly than your typical, ‘Insidious’ or ‘The Conjuring’ would. There is an impressive sound design which elevates the embodiment of fear without being too overt with it. Aster skilfully builds the tension at a strong pace; sustaining the mystery until presenting the audience with a horrifying, unexpected twist that you don’t quite see coming! Avoid spoilers at all costs to bear its full impact. Even though Aster has laid down hints and clues in the lead up, the clever realisation dawns in the aftermath.
**Below here you will find mild spoilers and my theory on the ending. **
While it builds at the beginning, the ending collapses in a spectacular fashion. It’s clear I’m the anomaly in this instance however for me, the climax was heavily drawn out, started to throw an abundance of all the horror clichés in the book to evoke terror which all led to a bizarre, left-field conclusion that was difficult to digest. The ending is lingered on in its nutshell of weirdness, uncertain of when it will finally conclude.
There could be several theories to decipher from it, my view being that Aster wanted to get the message across that in order to accept our grief we must attribute it to something spiritual or monumental beyond our own mortality rather than accepting that death is void and absolute. It’s an interesting allegory proving that horror is such a multifaceted genre to explore our innermost fears, desires and emotions.
While Hereditary left a lukewarm sensation in me, despite it showcasing many strengths, its proving to be another in a long line of ‘renowned’ horror films, that mainstream critics can’t quite accept as horror, spouting out terminology such as ‘post-horror’. Hereditary is thematically seeped from head to toe in the genre and there is no denying it. Despite films like this placing horror on the map and encouraging audiences to experience them first hand in cinemas, lets shred the snobbery and celebrate good movies for what they are.