Hereditary was a film I was reluctant to watch. I had seen the positive critical reception and, as a genre fan who enjoys seeing unique ideas brought to screen, it was a film that’d always be on my radar ‘til I swallowed my trepidation and watched. It wasn’t the director Ari Aster in his debut at the helm of a film which made me fearful, in-fact, I wasn’t even fearful it’d be bad.
A24 is a company with several successful horror fare in their backlog, but I’d noticed a pattern with critic’s perception of them and audience’s reception to them. The Witch and It Comes at Night were both applauded by critics like they were the second-coming of Christ, especially the latter, whereas theatergoers deemed them mediocre at best. There’s a lot of arguments about the lukewarm audience response – that they went into the films thinking they’d receive “conventional” horror and, eventually, as the excuses became more aggressive, it was simplified down to “audiences are stupid, critics be smart. They didn’t understand it!” I landed squarely in the middle of it all.
The Witch was a strong exercise in technique for an other-wise decent film with a story-line that otherwise felt worn-down and familiar, whereas, It Comes at Night was fairly standard albeit competent. By no means were they films I’d fight to the death over. It Comes at Night was a simple, well-made film, and although The Witch strove for greater heights with an atmospheric period-piece, it wasn’t a film that’d climb very high on “the List”. Frankly, most of the reason I didn’t want to watch Hereditary is I didn’t want to be the odd one out. Like It Comes at Night and The Witch, Hereditary received rave reviews from critics and a bad reception from moviegoers – that said, let’s review Hereditary.
Hereditary is a 2018 supernatural psychological horror drama film written and directed by Ari Aster, comprised of a cast that includes Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro and Gabriel Byrne. This is a film I’d recommend going into as blindly as one can, but, basically – Hereditary follows a mother and father, their son and their daughter, and is set after the death of the children’s grandmother. The grandmother had been a very secretive woman, living a life that had been mostly kept away from her daughter. At a support group, coping with her grandmother’s death, Annie also reveals her family-tree is plagued by mental illness, a curse that she herself hasn’t avoided. Hereditary was a considerable success for A24, becoming their highest-grossing film at the time with nearly 80 million worldwide.
As I prefaced earlier, Hereditary is a film I believe is best gone into without any foreknowledge of what’s under-the-hood. The film is brimming with peculiarities and a steady hand at the helm with director Ari Aster charging onward with a confidence ahead of his years. Hereditary holds its cards close to its chest, and, the story-line throws a detail-oriented puzzle-box for you to fidget with during its run-time. It’s paced like other A24 films and can feel vague at the surface-level, but I found myself engaged from start to finish. The mother, played by Toni Collette, is the vehicle for the film’s high-concept story-line, embedding dialogue with clues and hints foreshadowing the story’s inner-workings and payoff.
As the credits rolled for Hereditary, something happened that doesn’t happen very often – I watched it again. I watched it again, appreciating the smaller nuances that I hadn’t known to look out for prior. In the early-going, I tried to surmise where the film was headed. It isn’t a crash-course film, but it engages in a more surprising fashion than anticipated, throwing curve-balls, yet feeling tautly crafted. The dialogue in the opening scene sees a choice of words that might as well come with a wink-and-a-nod, acknowledging the grandmother’s private-nature and “private rituals,” and yet, manages to surprise, nonetheless. It primes you to head in a familiar, safe direction, then, steers off-road, and is better for it.
Horror fare no longer has that emotional affect on me that it did – it no longer scares me at all. It isn’t a flex, but a consequence of overindulgence. Instead, my enjoyment is mostly derived from the execution, story-line, and creativity.
This film borrows influence from many horror of yesteryear, while offering a skillful execution. Better than that though, it offers its own unique imagery and a distinct vision. I appreciated the smaller special-effects and, for a moment, I was legitimately caught-off guard by some of its more ambitious spectacles. I don’t want to oversell Hereditary as a modern-classic or one of the best horror films you’ll ever see. What I will say though is that I thoroughly enjoyed the film.
2018 saw series reboots and remakes like Halloween and Suspiria, sequels such as The Strangers: Prey at Night and The First Purge, and introduced us to The Nun and A Quiet Place, of all those films, however, Hereditary is certainly among the top of the list.