Much has been said of Ari Aster’s Hereditary, but does it live up to the hype?
For the most part, Hereditary is a film with some excellent disturbing and heartbreaking moments. It exudes atmosphere, with anxiety and discomfort rising with each passing minute. Other than a rocky third act, Hereditary is a film with the power to cut deep on an emotional level.
The story follows Annie (Toni Collette) and her family, who are grieving the passing of her mother. Annie is accompanied by her husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro), and son Peter (Alex Wolff). From the get-go Hereditary establishes an unnerving tension. On a technical level the film may look nice, but the true star is the sound design: the score establishes a disturbing flow throughout the picture.
Hereditary is a different kind of horror film; while critics may say it’s the scariest film of our generation, that isn’t really what the story is going for. Is it scary in a traditional horror movie sense? At times yes—the film does a stellar job of setting up jump scares, just to keep viewers on the edge of their seat while revealing nothing. There is some disturbing imagery that pops up at times as well; but Hereditary is more of a slow burn, focusing on despair and emotional heartache.
The first act is more of a family drama with moments of creepy imagery. It’s by the end of act one where not only things shift into high gear, but the film presents its most horrifying scene. Not only is it the inciting incident that sets up the rest of the film, but it is truly one of the most unsettling sequences in recent film history. When comparing the traditional scares with the emotional drama throughout the film, they are both unique and unsettling in their own means. The interaction between the family is where the picture succeeds the most, and where it captures its strongest feelings of horror and agony.
In regard to the plot twist, while it does help to push the story forward, reveals of the same ilk have been done much better in other films. I will not mention any titles that pull off such story methods, for bringing them up would spoil some of the surprise in Hereditary. Other films have utilized similar twists, leading to dark and somber finales; in the case of Hereditary, while the twist starts with some promise, it leads to a rushed ending.
Act one has that strong family drama component, touching upon themes of grief and mental health. Act two takes these themes and elevates them to an intense psychological realm. But by the time we get to act three, these previous themes feel cut down and replaced with a totally new feel. The themes of mental health and grief in the beginning cast a blanket of anxiety, despair, and uncertainty in the character’s state of mind. While those themes appear throughout act three to some degree, it feels as if Hereditary’s story and tone abandon them for the most part.
Truth be told, Hereditary is not one of the scariest movies of all time, but it is a good film. It is an excellent reminder of what horror is and can be, and offers one of the most chilling and horrific sequences in recent cinema. For the most part, Hereditary is intriguing, unsettling, and emotionally painful. It may suffer in its third act, but overall presents a tremendous aura of tension and heartache that will sit with audiences throughout its runtime.