REVIEW: “Hereditary”

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It’s probably a good indicator that you aren’t in for a happy two hours when the film you’re watching opens with a newspaper obituary. In “Hereditary” it turns out the obit is for 78-year-old Ellen Taper Leigh. It’s the launching point for this stunning and genuinely creepy filmmaking debut.

Writer-director Ari Aster’s fiendishly disturbing film gets under your skin through slow-boiling horror beats while patiently maneuvering its characters through scenes/stages of grief, mental and emotional instability, and finally full-blown terror. It’s one part a heart-wrenching family story, but as Aster begins carefully peeling away the surface layers of his tale, a dark and deeply unsettling heart is revealed.

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Toni Collette is extraordinary in the film’s lead role. She plays Annie, an artist who specializes in miniatures many of which are based on her own life experiences. She lives in the mountains with her soft-spoken husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), their 16-year-son Peter (Alex Wolff) and 13-year-old daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro). She happens to be the daughter of Ellen Taper Leigh. You remember, the woman from the above mentioned obituary?

As Annie eulogizes her mother at the funeral service it becomes clear their relationship was strained. We also learn Annie’s childhood was tough. Her father battled psychotic depression, her mom had dementia and her brother was a schizophrenic. All of it feeds into the estranged Annie’s frame of mind, but it also feeds into the wickedly uncomfortable horror element that simmers at the core of Aster’s film.

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Plot-wise being intentionally vague is pretty essential. The fewer details you have going in the better the effect. It starts a bit slow as its pieces are put into place, but once the psychological terror begins to uncoil the movie methodically grows more and more discomforting. Aster’s examination of grief and mental illness gets darker and more queasy with every scene.

“Hereditary” is a genuinely terrifying movie, not in the gory gruesome or lazy jump-scare sense. Instead it bores deep down under your skin much in the way Robert Eggers did with his exceptional 2016 film “The Witch”. With fine performances, a strong directorial debut, and soaked in the strategically menacing score by Colin Stetson, “Hereditary” slowly pulls you in before giving your nerves and your senses a good working over. That’s the kind of ‘horror’ that lands with me.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

4-stars

40 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Hereditary”

  1. I absolutely love this movie. I’ve only seen it once, but it’s one that really sticks with you long after the credits roll. Some of the best horror movies I’ve ever seen are the ones that have the audacity to make things personal and relatable. Hereditary does just that. This movie got under MY skin because I was also dealing with some personal tragedy this year, so there was a lot here that I could relate to. Toni Collett’s performance is one for the books, I think. Everybody here did a fantastic job, but it was Toni that really sold the tragedy and tension. Hereditary is probably going to end up as one of my favorite movies of the year.

    • Toni was incredible. That’s not an easy role to take on. Several layers to what she is doing. Also I can see it being an emotionally taxing undertaking. She nails it.

  2. Now I definitely don’t want to see it. You lost me at “fiendishly disturbing film [that] gets under your skin”. Sounds a little too unsettling for me! lol I do enjoy hearing people talk about how how much they enjoyed it though. It’s not every day that a film comes along in this particular genre and gets everyone excited. Do you know where Aster drew his inspiration? That’s a story I’m interested in hearing.

    • I think the overall idea behind the film is genuinely disturbing. You can enjoy the performances and still be unsettled by what’s going on, but you don’t necessarily have to actually “enjoy” the film. It’s a pretty tough film to sit through, especially if you’ve been dealing with tragedy yourself. It’s definitely not a movie for everybody, as it is a pretty soul-crushing film. I do like how the film definitely examines how some families deal with tragedy, mental illness or a combination of the two, because one CAN affect the other. It handles those aspects pretty brilliantly. For a director’s first feature film, Hereditary is incredible.

      • I agree. I watch a ton of horror movies, and very few of them actually affected me the way this one did. I haven’t seen it since I picked it up on Blu-ray, but it’s still on my mind. I would put Hereditary right up there with The Witch as some of the best horror movies ever made.

      • Those two definitely use the same approach. And I love that they don’t rely on cheap tricks or overused horror tropes. Very original horror.

  3. I was really hoping to see this during the Halloween season as my local library had a copy of it but someone had already checked it out and everyone was waiting for it. I’ll try again next year.

  4. I also bought up The Witch in my review of this movie as I noticed a lot of similarities. That said, Hereditary is definitely it’s own thing and it’s pretty awesome at being that. And Collette…wow. She kills it!

    • Doesn’t she? She is really good and it’s not an easy role at all. I told me wife it was in the same vein as The Witch. She refused to watch it with me! 😂

    • It’s funny, I wrote this several months back and had kinda forgot about her performance. But the more I’ve been thinking on it, she’s just incredible. As I mentioned elsewhere, not many actresses could pull of what she does.

  5. Oh I loved this movie! It shook me to my core. That cry of despair after well, *it* happened, I would like to be able to get that sound out of my head. This movie offers a truly haunting depiction of what grief can do to us.

    • Yes! It is indeed haunting but also intensely unique. If you count them up there are a lot of movies that deal with grief. This one explores it from a very interesting perspective

  6. Nice review Keith. I did really dig the first half with its Benny’s Video-like plot twist, but when the movie started becoming more supernatural, it lost me a bit, and I thought the ending did too much in trying to explain everything. Still an impressive horror feature though.

    • Thank you. The ending is definitely out there. Do you think the final moments are literal? It’s been a couple months since I wrote this review. Someone questioned a literal reading of it which I found intriguing.

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