Surely if you’re not a horror fan who has already dragged someone (or maybe yourself) to the theater for this year’s hollywood sweetheart ‘Hereditary’, then you’ve heard someone telling you about how scary this movie is. As a long time horror fan myself, I admit to having been more than a little skeptical. These are the kind of flighty compliments every horror fan is used to hearing upon the release of a new entry into the genre: ranging from “scariest movie in years” to “Absolutely chilling” all the way down to “best horror movie since ‘The Excorcist’”.
As it turns out, producing studio A24’s gamble on Ari Aster’s vision for this movie pays off, as it happens to be one of the most frighteningly memorable horror films I’ve seen in years. I’ve been trying (along with many others) to figure out just what about this film makes it so much more efficient at delivering lasting chills than other similar attempts in the genre.
I’ll keep this as spoiler free as possible but I should clarify, there are possible spoilers to Hereditary ahead.
The Slow Knife
Hereditary is pretty long for a typical horror film, clocking in at a little above 125 minutes, (2 hours and 7 minutes) yet uses the time masterfull by easing the viewer into genuine fear. Our protagonists are a family of dysfunctional people who all mean well, but each in their own right, are complex and troubled people. The movie takes it’s time nestling you into the oppressively depressing relationships these characters have with each other.
Just as you find yourself settled into the dreary mood around this family, masterfully spearheaded by Toni Collette’s (United States of Tara, Sixth Sense) performance, the dynamic of the family spirals wildly out of control. The shift in their lives is sudden and brutal, directly contrasting the mood of the movie up until this point. You hold your breath in waiting for this moment to pass, but it never does. Circumstances only continue to get worse for the next hour or so, and as you’re watching these horrific things happen to these people, the stress is wearing on you too.
Top Shelf Performances
Hereditary believes in it’s actors and it shows. The cast in this movie is relatively small, a four person family with few side characters that effect them. The entire movie hinges on their relationship to the camera and their environment, with extremely little CGI, and practical effects pulling off the scares. When this family is terrified, you can’t help but relate, and that’s thanks to some real risks. When it comes to shots like Toni Collette's terrified face as she watches something very important burn for 5 minutes, it’s incredibly evident.
The strongest theme of the film is family, as you have probably figured out from the title. The movie relies on family related fear tactics such as: coping strangely to the death of a loved one, harboring mistakes over one’s head, trying and failing to communicate with your parents, discovering secrets about your wife’s family, needing the space to figure out things for yourself before opening up, and of course, just plain ol’ being misunderstood.
It’s likely you identify with one of these, perhaps even quiet strongly, and the movie uses these feelings and twists them in ways we usually don’t often see in a narrative. You find yourself hoping these various secrets and misunderstandings get sorted out by the end of the movie, but you soon realize they’re just being twisted with increasing wickedness. The movie leaves you feeling both emotionally drained and deeply creeped out.
I recommend catching a viewing of ‘Hereditary’ to check out in the theaters, because the big screen visuals and sound direction do a lot for the experience. Usually these sort of art-house indie darlings scramble at the box office, but this one came out with a $43.7 million earnings over a $10 million dollar budget. Let’s hope movie studios and directors are taking notes from the recent horror successes of ‘Get Out’, ‘A Quiet Place’, and ‘Hereditary’. We would sure like to see even more ambitious and satisfying art added to the genre.