+ Recommended – R, Horror, Thriller
While Hereditary might not be the greatest horror film in recent memory, it does pack one creepy punch. Director Ari Aster punishes the audience, not with the typical gore or jump scares all too prevalent in recent flicks, but rather with time and dread. Hereditary deliberately crawls its way to the finale at a pace some will find abhorrent or even unnecessary.
There are hints of The Witch (2015) and even the finale of True Detective, Season 1; mostly when observing the absurd amount of time before anything “significant” happens. More often than not, horror benefits more from atmosphere than anything else and Hereditary directly uses the unsettling score from Colin Stetson in the very opening sequence; this continues even during the tame periods. Rather than building increasing tension throughout the two hours, Aster immediately thrusts the audience into the absurdness, thus ensuring un-comfortability. But then the story and the creepiness remains stagnant for two hours. And to make matters worse, Aster purposefully writes comedically at times: some of the best moments come from laughs (they are well-written).
This tactic might have been more effective in a shorter movie. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: creating a slow-burning environment can be an effective avenue for storytelling. Hereditary attempts to tackle grief within this playground; sometimes it pays-off and other times the potential outweighs the reward, leading to a disappointing horror experience. And let me clarify: the disappointment I felt was simply because of the hype surrounding the film, not because the quality of the film was anything less than average. In fact, the quality is on-par with other recent horror movies, such as: It Follows (2014), The Witch (2015), Get Out (2017), and most recently, A Quiet Place (2018).
Family dynamics are an important aspect of the film, as the name might suggest. The Grahams are tragically flawed, and not for any reason other than fate. After years of loss and devastation they seem as though they have no emotions; they are physically and emotionally fatigued. Although Hereditary successfully creates an unsettling environment, it’s the interplay between these family members that elevate the stakes within the plot. Aster worked hard to separate the family into small groups for intimate moments between two, and sometimes three, characters.
Anyone that has gone through the process of grief will be able to connect to the relationships of this family and assemble a level of sympathy for each member. Toni Collette (Annie Graham), Milly Shapiro (Charlie Graham), and Alex Wolff (Peter Graham) are the most effective trio and easily the standouts from Hereditary, although, every performance was solid and very believable. The writing was weak in terms of backstory, forcing characters to explain their past in depth rather than it being shown, or even explained through natural dialogue, but that didn’t have an effect on the performances.
According to Aster, there is, indeed, a three hour cut of the film. After watching Hereditary, you might feel as if three hours would be torturous to watch but I am curious to know how this would effect the ending. Overall, Hereditary provides atmosphere but in return, takes patience; patience that some might not have for a movie like this. In regards to the ending, it will either fall flat or flourish depending on your experience with the film and with grief.