A24 Films Presents Hereditary-Movie Review

Hereditary is part emotional roller coaster, part art-house masterpiece and part psychological thriller; it’s a must watch for everyone who loves great movies!

Photo Credit A24

A new era of horror movie was ushered in this week and the genre is better for it.  I first want to dispel the myth that this is the new Exorcist, it’s not.  That’s not to say it didn’t have some genuinely terrifying moments, it did.  It’s just not so much a horror movie as it is a family drama with elements of horror in it.  Without giving too much away it does have supernatural elements, very well done gore and some truly horrific imagery, but it really is a scary movie overlaid on top of a film about a seriously dysfunctional family.  I’m a big fan of the slow burn and this film seared the screen and the flame stayed lit as the film closed. 

With recent horror films like Get Out and Babadook highlighting psychological torment as much as blood Hereditary seeks to show us how what we think we see is only the beginning.   Grief is the new horror and never was that grief so gut-wrenchingly portrayed as Toni Collette’s Annie and Alex Wolff’s Peter.  Their progression through regret, fear, and instability was so compelling every scene with them felt voyeuristic and just icky.  It seemed wrong to watch these characters’ stories and the performances wrung from the actors and camera work from first-time full length director Ari Aster was nothing short of genius.  If this was his debut, I can’t wait to see what he does next.  This film had the maturity of a seasoned director coupled with the creativity of a fresh new voice.  

The film was really divided into two acts with the first being a simmering pot of loathing, distrust and familiar unhappiness.  It becomes apparent right away that this family is not at all the idyllic version of a dollhouse the movie opens to.  This dollhouse view is used to full effect throughout the film and is one of the most effective cinematic elements I have ever seen.  The surreal view invaded every scene and each looked like a vignette from Annie’s dollhouses.  The use of Annie’s dioramas throughout only perpetuated the unreal quality to every scene.  For example after a shocking family tragedy rocks the house Annie retreats to her workshop to build an exact replica of the event.  Instead of comforting her son and husband or seeking solace herself she builds and leaves for anyone to see a ghoulish macabre diorama that can only be described as demented.  It’s those choices that make this film work as well as it does.  This is a messed up family.  The cracks already ran deep before anything happens.  It is obvious this is not a picture perfect unit with a doting and attentive Mother but a warped, sad husk of a family.

Collette and Wolff are incredible in their portrayals of a distracted, toxic mother and sullen, drugged up teenager.  Collette really shines in the closing scenes of the first act.  Annie’s grief is a visceral entity.  If sadness can have a corporeal form she gave it one.   The pain she shows is so hard to watch it almost makes you sick to your stomach.  The only rival to this is Wolff’s final scenes.  His fear and confusion make everyone squirm and for me, as a parent of a teen boy myself, his desperate crying for his “Mommy” is a tour de force.  It’s the sort of performance that makes careers.  It is that good!  He has sure come a long way from his time with The Naked Brothers Band.  Milly Shapiro is disturbing to the extreme as daughter Charlie.  Her lurching quirkiness verges on the cartoonish but skirts the line and instead settles firmly in the land of unhinged.  In addition, I will never hear a clucking tongue again without jumping.  Gabriel Byrne is the patient ever suffering Dad who sulks through most scenes with a deep scowl on his face.  His grief is shown in the deep lines on his face.  His mask of sorrow is so profound it is artful.  The impotence he feels as he loses control over his family is subtle but effective. 

Foreshadowing in the first act prepares you for the frightening second act.  Peter’s English class lesson on Heracles and predetermination, the throwaway phone call from the cemetery, the below ground camera shot of the cemetery at one of two different funerals in the movie hitting home that roots run deep, and Annie’s brother’s suicide all lay the groundwork for the domestic disaster that becomes the second act.  Bizarre scenes that should sound normal do not.  An innocuous conversation between Annie and Charlie drips with dread for no clear reason.  It is a simple conversation about the fear of a young child losing her mother in death and memories of a distant but smothering grandmother, but it feels like a horrible truth is hovering just out of reach.  A vicious family fight over dinner is as bleak as any death.  This is a family in crisis and the characters play their parts to perfection.  Watch a clip of that below.

My only complaint about the movie is the last three minutes.  The needless expository Druidian chanting was unnecessary and I felt the film would have been better served ending with a close up of Peter’s ravaged face.  His acting alone is so perfectly subtle by the devastating finale it packs a huge emotional wallop and deserves to stand on its own. 

I left the theater feeling on edge and oddly anxious.  This is the mark of a perfectly paced slow burn.  The dread is so thick it’s oppressive.  I also left confused and haunted.  What did I just watch?  What the just happened?  This new brand of horror sucks you in and delivers a donkey kick to the chest.  Not content to simply startle you with jump scares or provide you a slow walking superhuman slasher to run from this gave you a mirror and told you to, “Take a good look, cause it could happen to you”.  As such it stays with you and you will find yourself thinking about its many disturbing images when you least expect it.  Hopefully, it won’t cause any sleepwalking problems.  If you have seen the film you know what I mean if you haven’t hurry and go.  You have been warned!

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