Film review: Hereditary

A modern wide-release horror that doesn’t rely solely on jump scares? Next, you’ll be telling me it features a creepy and well-done performance from a child. What’s that? Oh well, now you’ve got me.

Hereditary is the first feature film from writer/director Ari Aster. It’s an intense horror that centres on a grieving family after the death of an elderly grandmother. Cheery stuff. It’s been getting rave reviews across the board for its tense atmosphere and deeply upsetting imagery, so I begrudgingly dragged myself to the pictures prepared for the embarrassment that comes with making frightened noises in front of strangers.

So does it live up to the hype? Well, for the most part, I’d say yeah, it does. The vistas are thoroughly unsettling, the sound design is oozing with malice and the acting is top-drawer. Toni Collette delivers what is probably the best performance of any actor I’ve seen in a 2018 release. You really go with her, kicking and screaming, into every horrific emotion she embodies. Often, she’s also kicking and screaming. The endless dark corridors and the Wes Anderson-esque¬†symmetrical framing was beautiful to behold. A technique that he uses to build quirky whimsical worlds, here creates an alien sandbox for dark themes concerning grief, mental illness, and family breakdown.

The film takes advantage of the horror tropes of today too. Because Hollywood has conditioned me to expect certain things, their absence filled me with dread and uncertainty. Every time half of the silent frame was conspicuously empty, I was convinced a screaming monster would soon fill it. This not happening kept my apprehension wound tight where cashing in a cheap jump-scare would have been a waste.

That said, it has a peculiar structure. It’s a bit too long and the plot, while seeding elements throughout effectively, can be meandering in the middle. Also, are the comedic bits intentional?¬†Hereditary includes imagery that is presumably supposed to be creepy that invoked rapturous laughter from the audience in my screening. This happened a couple of times too often for it to just be a minor gripe. Also, they idiot-proofed the ending a bit considering it wasn’t hugely complicated in the first place. There’s literally someone who explains the conclusion from off-screen… even though we had an explanation about half an hour earlier. I would’ve appreciated them not treating me like a dullard.

Hey, if you’re like me and frustrated we aren’t getting Incredibles 2 or Ant-Man until after the World cup, this will tide you over till then. Even this movie isn’t as scary as the idea of having to watch football.