If you asked most horror fans about what horror film they were looking forward too the most this year, you’d probably learn that a lot of people were hyped for the release of “Hereditary.” And it’s no surprise really. After hitting the festival circuit the film started to gain a lot of huge buzz from not just horror critics but film critics in general. It seems to be the first horror movie of the year that’s being praised across the board for not just being a good horror movie, but a good movie in the broadest sense. So if you take all that positive buzz and combine it with a great trailer that only builds upon the film’s mystique (as A24 is known for doing) then you wind up a film that is bound to have a tidal wave of interest riding into its release. But with all that being said, does this manage to live up to its early reputation?
After the passing of her mother, Annie (Toni Collette) struggles to come to terms with the lifetime of misery her mother left in her wake. However, the more she learns about her mother and her family history, the more she realizes that she may have inherited a troubling fate.
“Hereditary” touches on a handful of themes like motherhood and mental illness, but one of the bigger themes is grief. The story in “Hereditary” examines how grief and the loss of a loved one can either rip a family apart or bring them together. Annie grapples with the subject throughout the film and expresses herself through her art, but she still has a hard time coming to terms with the things she’s had to endure. As a result this begins to drive a wedge between her and her family and brings to light her own personal demons. This is certainly a horror story, but the film builds the horror off of the back of a family drama narrative which serves to give weight to the events that unfold in the movie. When the more horrific aspects of the film expose themselves, they’re rooted in the real life struggles of this family.
That being said, while I think the core story is very well told, “Hereditary” is a slow burn like no other. The film is only about 127 minutes long, but there were times where I felt those minutes painfully slip by. The film is padded out by long drawn out scenes designed to increase tension and build a sense of foreboding, but for me these moments just led to me feeling exhausted with the whole thing. It’s also the thing that’ll most likely make audiences either love or hate this movie. So go into this movie knowing that and knowing what your appreciation for that kind of pace is. If you have a low tolerance for it, this may be the kind of movie you wait to see in the comfort of your home where you can easily pause it when you need a break.
However, if you do appreciate a good slow burn then you’ll love this one as all of those tension building scenes are underlined by some fantastic acting. Toni Collette is the real powerhouse in this movie, she delivers some of the most gut wrenching screams of agony I’ve ever heard. Even in scenes where she’s quietly working on her art, she has this underlying presence that makes it clear she’s barely holding things together. There’s a raw intensity to her character and Toni just overshadows everyone else in the film in the best way possible. Which is saying something as her husband is played by Gabriel Byrne and even he looks meek in scenes with her. Rounding out the cast is Alex Wolff who delivers the second most impactful performance as a tortured high school student. It’s a dramatic turn around from last years “Jumanji” where he played a nerdy high schooler. I recently watched “Jumanji” and Alex was so engrossing that I had completely forgotten that I had just seen him in a comedy a few weeks ago. Guy has a lot of great range and it shines through spectacularly here. And, of course, there’s Milly Shapiro who has been the poster child for this movie. For someone without a lot of history behind her, she gives an amazing visual performance as she has a limited amount of dialog.
Speaking of visuals, this film has a great sense of style with stark lighting and beautiful imagery. Annie has this art project where she builds miniature recreations of real life settings and the objects are highly detailed and used to great effect in the movie by depicting how Annie is feeling. Scenes in the film are also loaded with details that make you want to stop and examine the film scene by scene. There’s probably a lot of subtext that could be missed if you don’t examine what’s going on in the background.
Overall, “Hereditary” is a wonderfully made horror film and one that should be experienced by every horror fan. However, the slow burn nature of the film will definitely turn people away or make it a terrible experience in the theater. It’s something you have to go in prepared to sit through, but if you don’t think you can handle it I would recommend seeing it once it comes out on VOD or blu-ray. Either way, it is something that needs to be experienced by horror fans and the kind of film that’ll be talked about years to come.