2018 has been an interesting year for horror so far; from one of the best films in the year in A Quiet Place, to the baffling Ghost Stories, we’ve had a real mixed bag. Now along comes Hereditary, riding a wave of hype from across the Atlantic and having received a good few glowing reviews along the way. It’s the first feature-length movie from Ari Aster, whose previous work in short films includes the critically polarising The Strange Thing about the Johnsons and Aster has certainly carried that forward into this movie.
Hereditary is a difficult movie, both to watch and to describe. To go into too much detail would ruin the surprise of the film – I was lucky to have not seen any details or in fact any trailers before going into my showing. The synopsis gives away pretty much nothing, so what better way to dive into the plot:
When Ellen passes away, her daughter’s family begins to unravel cryptic and increasingly terrifying secrets about their ancestry. The more they discover, the more they find themselves trying to outrun the sinister fate they seem to have inherited.
The daughter in question is our protagonist Annie, played brilliantly by Toni Collette, whose family finds themselves in a downward trajectory off the back of her mother’s death. Annie’s husband is hiding big news from her, her son is a stoner, and her daughter keeps drawing weird pictures and hanging out in the treehouse. Everyone plays their part inch-perfectly, but special mention goes out to Milly Shapiro who plays Charlie – the aforementioned arty daughter who seems to be tuned into a very unusual wavelength throughout.
Throughout Hereditary, Aster explores the relationship between Annie and her mother through some very powerful acting moments from Collette. There are a couple of scenes where she gets to just let loose and they are some of the most emotionally powerful moments that I can remember seeing in a movie this year – possibly even rivalling Three Billboards in its lead female performance.
As for the horror elements, again it’s difficult to discuss these without giving away too much. It’s important to know though that there are no jump-scares – Hereditary isn’t that kind of movie – but instead Aster intersperses his movie with images that are truly horrifying, and difficult to get out of your head days after seeing them. It’s not a scary film as such, but its intensity and unsettling imagery keep things on the horror path. The final act is pure cinematic madness, and I genuinely couldn’t tell where things were going with 30 minutes remaining.
However, Hereditary is far from a perfect movie; its pacing doesn’t quite work and it takes a lot of time to really get going. Of course a lot of that time is devoted to its characters and a further viewing will no doubt go along a lot more hastily once you start looking for clues that hint towards the movie’s ending.
Possibly the biggest issue is the movie’s marketing; while of course it fully deserves the horror mantle and it is a very good film, Hereditary has been thrown around town as “This Generation’s The Exorcist” and that’s always going to have people draw the wrong impressions. Better comparisons would be to Rosemary’s Baby or Don’t Look Now, and other more character based horror from that Golden Era of the 1970s.
Ari Aster’s first feature-length movie will find a home outside of massive box-office appeal, and there is a good chance that it’ll develop a cult following over time. It remains to be seen if Hereditary will become the classic that many are hyping it up to be, but for now I will happily look forward to whatever the director does next.