At the end of January, the folks over at A24 dropped the trailer for Hereditary and while it did not break the internet, people freaked out quite a bit, mostly because of it's ambiguous plot and terrific sound work. The trailer left me more skeptical than excited. Horror movies are a dime a dozen these days and Hereditary felt like another great trailer that led to disappointment.
Fast forward four months and through the first hour and a half or so of Hereditary, my premonition had come true. Movies like It Comes At Night and The Witch had spoiled me on the ramped up tension. The lack of a real payoff had strained my patience for slow art house horror films, but then Hereditary made its turn and so did my opinion on the movie.
Lets take a step back and quickly set the scene. Hereditary centers around a family, most specifically the mother, Annie Graham played by Toni Collette, after the death of her elderly mother. Even though their relationship was strained, the death seems to loom over Annie and her husband Steve and their children Peter and Charlie.
At a support group for people who have recently lost a loved one we learn that all of Annie's family including her mother have suffered from mental illness at some point and Annie fears her daughter Charlie may be showing the same sort of signs.
That is about as much as I am willing to reveal without giving away too much, but there is much more to learn about Annie, her family and their past. Unfortunately the majority of the early movie is spent doing this.
The first half of the movie is spent not only fleshing out the characters, but doing it two or three times. Far too many of those early scenes feel like being bashed over the head with exposition and showing off the same character traits they did in the previous act. Some of these scenes make more sense once you have the full scope of the movie but there could easily have been 20 minutes or so edited out of the first and second act without sacrificing much.
As stated earlier, Hereditary is a movie that uses ramping tension and tone similarly to The Witch and It Comes at Night, but those comparisons quickly fall away and a much more apt comparison to The Babadook becomes present.
If you have not had the chance to see the 2014 Australian horror masterpiece, I cannot recommend it enough, and if you are going to draw inspiration from a recent horror movie, The Babadook is about as good as you can ask for. Both The Babadook and Hereditary handle issues like mental health and depression using the horror genre as a backdrop, and while The Babadook makes more use of it's theme, Hereditary does not do a bad job either.
Probably the best thing about Hereditary is the writing, often in horror movies the writing is anywhere from abysmal to awful, and even though Hereditary is not Mamet, it does a great job of getting it's point across while building a world and characters that are really fleshed out.
I know I said earlier that the characters are a bit overexposed and that we get the same information a few too many times but what we do get is really solid. Hereditary was not some spooky idea that was thrown together to make a few bucks and some high school kids scream, Hereditary is a well structured horror movie that will have you thinking about it for days, not just because of how darn scary that last half hour is, but because of how well it all works together after the final frame.
We have Ari Aster to thank for both the writing and direction of Hereditary and i think it is safe to say that we have found a real talent here. Hereditary is Aster's feature film debut and you would not know it by watching Hereditary.
While not as stylized as something like It Follows, Hereditary is really well shot and puts even movies like It to shame with how well it is shot. From the opening scene which involves some funky camera work with a miniature house to the way things and images are revealed using camera placement and editing, Aster has proven that he knows how to shoot a movie.
I am also sure I won't be the first to praise Astor for his direction of actors. I have never been a fan of Toni Colette, but I don't want to waste any time here getting into that. Similarly to Essie Davis in The Babadook, Collette does a fantastic job of showing the slow descent into madness that the present situation is putting her character into and for the most part eschews her scene chewing habits.
The rest of the family, played by Alex Wolf as Peter, Milly Shapiro as Charlie and Gabriel Byrne as Steve are really solid as well, I don't want to get too much into their characters and the parts they play but each does a terrific job getting there. Aster should not only be praised for his writing and cinematography, but his ability to direct actors to incredibly believable performances as well.
Hereditary is a movie that is not for everyone, but the right people will know exactly what to do with it. The depth of the plot and characters is how horror movies should be done, even if the early movie stalls quite a bit. I did not like Hereditary as much similarly handled horror movies like last year's The Killing of a Sacred Deer or the aforementioned The Babadook but Hereditary is a damn good horror movie that will be stuck in your head days after viewing.