Movie Review – Hereditary
It’s a horror film ostensibly about a haunted house. It’s distributed by A24, the movie studio. The tone and style here feel like other A24 horror films like Under the Skin (2014), The Witch (2016), A Ghost Story (2017) and It Comes at Night (2017). Even though it’s the feature-debut of writer-director Ari Aster, it is of a piece of A24’s recent output. Those aforementioned films had a bit of a unique or fresher perspective on the horror ideas that they had. If you’ve seen Rosemary’s Baby (1968), The Amityville Horror (1979), Sleepy Hollow (1999), The Babadook (2014) or even Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016), then there aren’t any unique or fresher ideas here, or any different angles. It perhaps was going to say something about mental illness, but that’s just a red herring. The movie is mainly just about expressions of resentment and guilt that can build within families of course taken to extremes.
Aster does take his time with the film. Nothing is rushed, but the pacing is never dull or dragging. It doesn’t do what modern horror films do. It doesn’t pepper the film with jump scares every few minutes. The first hour of it has no jump scares at all. There are some creepy and one big horrific event, but none of it is presented as jump scares. As such, that first hour might come across as boring to those horror enthusiasts, but that first hour is needed to set up the characters and this family to fully understand them. It is buttressed with amazing performances from the cast though.
Toni Collette (Fright Night and The Sixth Sense) stars as Annie Graham, a wife with two children. She has a workshop in her house where she creates dioramas. She’s soon to have a showing at an art gallery. Her world is changed when her mother dies. She didn’t have the best relationship with her mother and she reveals in a support group that her mother and her family have a history of mental illness. She thinks it’s affecting her connection to her daughter. Collette is tremendous as this woman dealing with grief and loss, as well as feelings of fear about what’s been passed down through her family and what she might pass down to her kids.
Alex Wolff (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and Patriots Day) co-stars as Peter, the eldest son of Annie. He’s an average, teenage boy. He plays guitar. He smokes weed, and he’s interested in a girl who sits in front of him in class. Wolff’s performance is equally tremendous as a boy dealing with grief and loss too. Yet, when strange and supernatural things start to happen in the film’s second hour, it’s Wolff’s reactions that prove the most entertaining. He has what I call freak-out moments that are the best reactions to scary situations I’ve probably ever seen.
The reactions might seem comical, over-the-top or laughable, but his reactions represent a genuine, guttural fear that most movies can’t capture or portray. Seeing the look on Wolff’s face in reacting to the scary situations are worth the price of a ticket alone. Yes, the situations themselves aren’t that original or new, but Aster’s approach or his way of arriving to his ultimate destination, focusing on his actor’s performances, is rather superbly done.
Rated R for horror violence, disturbing images, language, drug use and brief graphic nudity.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 7 mins.