Hype can really kill a movie.
A mother of two is haunted by visions and compulsions of her own deceased mother, but while she struggles to comprehend it, reality itself seems to be threatening her children.
Directed by Ari Aster, a debut film-maker, Hereditary is being considered by different reviewers as “a new generation’s Exorcist” and “the next Exorcist“. In fact, this opinion is so specific, The Exorcist is now a tag on this review!
Sorry to break it to you, dear reader: The Exorcist this is not.
In fact, watching Hereditary is to slowly realise how little writer/director Ari Aster really has to offer. The film starts off intriguingly enough; the opening shots are expressive and odd, from a bizarrely constructed tree-house to a slow pan into a doll’s house that actually transitions seamlessly into a room of the real house with our characters.
Promises continue with a good grasp of edgy atmospherics, subtle music cues and very low, bass rumbling that is on such a low register it could be mistaken for the neighbouring cinema screen. There’s a great sense of ambiguity, with a family suffering from loss and are battling with each other; are the ghouls and ghosts real, or is it emotions running riot? The mother, Annie, played by Toni Collette (Krampus) is a realistic miniature maker and her house is filled with doll houses that are extremely detailed. This also promises to be an intriguing concept early on, especially as the tiny figures are lit and positioned in creepy ways.
Unfortunately the film drops any creepiness with the doll houses almost immediately.
Horror in the current movie scene is fluctuating really badly… Popular horror films are tragically bad, relying entirely on jump scares and stupidly obvious music cues to jar their audience. Perhaps this is why Hereditary is getting critical praise; by comparison it is a masterpiece.
But critics also praised 2014’s The Babadook as being a masterpiece, and there are some similarities between the films. One parallel being either is scary, another is how both slowly sink into an uncomfortable “unintentionally funny” second and third act.
Indeed, all of the initial optimism from the first act implodes upon the “revelation” of our protagonist discovering spirit mediums as a means to communicate with lost love ones. Very quickly we go from a tense, ambiguous psychological horror about a family tearing itself apart, straight into a stereotypical horror which does not adhere to any internal logic.
It is very hard to explain without spoiling certain elements, so consider mild spoilers ahead:
One character is supposedly important to the supernatural happenings, yet because this is a horror film, this character needs to be threatened constantly. The character is nearly killed twice, brutally and irreparably. Why, if the character was so important, would the spectres try to kill him?
Horror is subjective, it also relies on how many horror movies you have been exposed to, but the hype for this film is unreal to suggest this is on par with films as old as The Exorcist. Moreover, it has screenplay issues and drops the ball with its creepiness midway through, for all of its early ingenuity it starts becoming riddled with cliche.
It does have some merits, atmosphere and sound design and Gabriel Byrne as the normal every man father was great, his exasperation was relatable as events started getting out of hand.
Only for die hard horror fans. For a debut film director the work is solid, but hugely overrated upon release.
Additional Marshmallows: And what about the dog?? Seriously. The family’s dog is so badly established in the first or second acts, despite most of the film taking place in their house. Then, off-screen, it starts barking. “Is that their dog?” “They have a dog?” “Is that a dog ghost?” “Are the characters hallucinating dogs now?” Important questions the audience asks itself. One of the many problems that start occurring.