Movie: Hereditary – Modern horror done right?

OH JEEZ, here we go! My first ever attempt at reviewing a movie, and what a doozy of a movie it is! I saw the end credits of Hereditary about two hours ago, so the movie is still fresh in my mind as I write this first look-review. Do not expect any in-depth analysis of the themes and secrets of this piece of cinema, as this is more of a glancing blow at the surface of a hot, new horror film that is rife for deeper analysis. Another thing, this review will be completely spoiler free, so worry not and read along if you’ve not seen Hereditary yet.

All opinions stated in this review are mine and mine only, unless stated otherwise! 

Walking into the movie theater with three of my friends as the trailers were running, I had some hopes, and some fears about this movie. Modern horror – like it or not – has been marred by more misses than hits, and the pool has been tainted by some truly awful attempts at spooking audiences (looking directly at you, Truth or Dare). Sure, films such as Get Out and Sinister are modern horror hits that got people’s behinds into theater seats, while raking in healthy amounts of cash at the box office. However, horror is a genre of film that is extremely difficult to get right – particularly on the first try – but it is safe to say that writer and director Ari Aster‘s first foray into the genre is a fantastic success.

The film starts off with the death of a secretive family matriarch, while the grieving Graham family slowly spirals into madness during a haunting and mysterious 127-minute run. Hereditary really takes it’s time to build up and escalate the tension felt throughout the film. It is definitely on the slower side of horror movies, which works well to its advantage. Aster’s piece of film focuses intently on a family (The Grahams), and their journey of grieving lost family members, while uncovering mysteries and frightening things about their heritage. I definitely liked how the film was paced; keeping the scares at a premium while building a tense atmosphere with proficient – if slightly pretentious – cinematography and brilliant sound design. However, the movie might feel a little bit too slow for some, and it may have been as good as it was now if they had left some scenes on the cutting room floor. Still, a director’s vision and all.

The Grahams are the centerpiece of Hereditary, and all four family members give the viewers a solid and believable performance. No over-the-top antics typical of the genre. The mother of the family, Annie (played by Toni Collette) really steals the show with her frantic and downright frightening performance; at points bordering on psychotic. Milly Shapiro as the daughter of the family, Charlie, also provides a creepy performance in her film debut. However, given the long run time, the actor really doesn’t get the screen time she deserves (while her character still plays a major part throughout the story). The film is carried by the women of the family, providing the most earnest – and the scariest scenes.

Toni Collette and Milly Shapiro in Hereditary.

Talking about those scary scenes; how is the actual horror in the horror movie? Cheap scares are nowhere to be found in Hereditary, as the film takes great advantage of psychological horror. Most of Hereditary relies more on slow, tense scenes that build and build upon the anxiety of the audience. In this sense, you can really tell that Aster was influenced by old classics of the horror genre. Parallels can be drawn with films like The Shining; some calling Hereditary the new Exorcist. I can’t blame anyone for that comparison. The first scare of the film actually produced an audible reaction in the theater, a rare occurrence with a Finnish audience. Some scenes produced laughter as well, but I think it was more nervous laughter than ‘ha-ha this is stupid’- laughter. I rarely get spooked during horror films, seeing as I’ve seen so many of them. I’ve come to expect the incoming scares and I am usually prepared enough to not flinch. Hereditary really subverted my expectations with this. I actually got chills a few times during the film. I was also sweating. A lot.

“Actual jump-out-of-your-seat spooks are sparse, but when they happen, they are gold.” Toni Collette in Hereditary.

I already mentioned the comparison to The Shining. Aster definitely appreciates the long hallways, and creeping cameras of Kubrick, using similar methods in Hereditary. Many shots linger on the faces of the characters, giving the audience clear looks at horror and emotion through the people in the film. The cinematography of Hereditary definitely holds up as a horror movie, showing just enough, and sometimes leaving things to the imagination of the audience. Though some shots feel slightly unnecessary and pretentious. The Killing of a Sacred Deer this movie is not.

“Though some shots feel slightly unnecessary and pretentious. The Killing of a Sacred Deer this movie is not.” Toni Collette in Hereditary.

Cinematography aside, where this movie really shines is the audio design. The team behind the sounds of the film absolutely nail every scene, bordering on perfection. Some scenes have blazing orchestral music behind them, constantly building the rising anxiety and tension of the film even further. Other scenes have barely any sound at all, and the audience can really hear every single scrape and scratch. This fifty-fifty split of loud and scary versus silent and also scary works amazingly well in Hereditary. A character clicking his/her tongue  as a reflex would seem like a passing quirk in any other horror. Here, the sound continues as a theme throughout the film; providing some of the scariest scenes, with one simple clicking sound.

Overall, the movie provides us with an example of modern horror done right when taken seriously. Influences and inspiration were definitely sourced from older horror movies; some scenes providing Easter eggs and callbacks to previous films in the genre. Moreover, Aster really nails the plot down with subtle hints and clues (some not-so-subtle as well) throughout the film. Hints and clues that can be easily missed during the first watching, providing a reason to watch and analyze the movie many times over. For example, a seemingly innocent (if not slightly creepy) smile at the beginning of the movie really pays off at the end. Speaking of, the climax of the movie is hectic and heart-pounding, a stark contrast to the measured pace of the rest of Hereditary. You could argue that the change of speed is a negative, but I disagree. Hereditary really picks up speed (and scariness) towards the end to provide the audience with an ending that is hard to explain with words. Therefore I won’t. Go watch the movie to see for yourself.

There it is, my first ever movie review! How did I do? Please comment with some feedback! Did you see Hereditary yourself? What did you think about it?

A note about possible future reviews of mine: You might notice that there is no scoring or star system anywhere to be seen. That is because there will be none. I find numeric reviews dull, because they are too simple for something like albums and movies. You can most definitely see my opinion and feelings by reading the review (and other reviews in the future).

Anyways, thanks for reading (please follow my blog, I am a glutton for attention)! 

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