Hereditary, written and directed by Ari Aster, is an odd one – and I mean that in both good ways and bad ways. This film is NOT what I was expecting. The trailers showed to me a particular type of film and particular type of expected experience, and I got the complete opposite. But that’s not where the issues with the film lay for me (I actually found that particular aspect to actually be one of my favourite things about the film, but I’ll touch upon that more soon). My issue lay with the fact that this film felt… confused. There are severe tonal issues and the film didn’t always feel like it had a handle on what it wanted to be. This is going to be an interesting review to write (and hopefully read) as I’m conflicted on how I properly feel about Hereditary. So, let’s make our way into the review and see what it is about this film that leaves me feeling such a way.
Annie Leigh – played by Toni Collette – and her family are mourning the loss of her mother/grandmother. Annie’s daughter, Charlie seems the most effected by the situation. However, strange events begin to occur and soon tragedy strikes again – a tragedy that sets in motion an unnerving set of occurrences that all lead to something dark and sinister.
I feel I have to start off by talking about the fact that the marketing of this film makes it look like a film that it is absolutely not. If you were to go off the trailers, you’d think you’d be watching an intense horror film that leaves you shook to your core. Instead, you get a psychological drama that slowly, quietly and creepily brings you along on a journey that unnerves you but never outright terrifies you. There are long drawn out moments of suspense or character exploration (which is done really well in my opinion) that are inter-cut with explosive moments of overwhelming emotion – but the scares barely come, if at all. I was certainly disturbed by moments – moments that sent chills down my spine, but I never felt… scared.
Here’s where I think one of the major issues of this film rear their head: A general audience is going to go into this film expecting/wanting a particular type of experience and are going to get something that is at no point what it seems like it’s going to be. People looking for a scare-a-minute horror film are going to be severely disappointed – and going off the reactions I heard when leaving the cinema, that assumption is pretty on point.
However, I personally liked the film. Did I love it? No. Was it the horror masterpiece that some are touting it to be? Definitely not – those comparing it to ‘The Exorcist’ clearly haven’t ever seen it. I’d say it’s more in line with ‘The Shining’ or the 2015 film ‘The Witch’ but not to the same quality. But still, for me there were a number of elements to the film that made it one that I never found myself drifting away from.
So Hereditary was not at all what I was expecting, and the marketing clearly took liberties in showing a particular type of expected experience that never turned out to be the case, but for me, that’s what had me so interested by the film. The unexpected path the film took and it not being the experience I had prepared myself for, had me really intrigued as to where Hereditary was going and where it was going to take me. We live in a day and age where trailers give away near enough the whole film so to get a film that in a sense tricked me and have me off-balance from the offset; immediately caught my attention and had me intrigued to see what it truly was.
And what else became something that really brought me deeper into the film as that it didn’t fall back on the cheap tricks usually utilised in the horror genre. There are no cheap jump scares in this film. There isn’t a long drawn out silence followed by a loud noise and something suddenly firing itself towards the screen. The scares in this film are more visceral. You’ll see something that will unsettle you, that might make you wince or recoil in discomfort. It’s a much more psychological experience. And this is a main factor, it not the only one, in why I think a general audience will leave this film feeling unfulfilled. For me though, it’s the type of film I prefer – only without some of the hiccups that nag at me like in this film.
Hereditary is slow and methodical in its execution. It wasn’t until the beginning of the second act that I felt I began to understand what the driving force of the film was actually going to be. Before that there were a few red herrings thrown my way. It had me off-balance and at first not fully grasping all the little clues it was laying out. But as things progressed and I began to get a handle on where things were going, I very much enjoyed putting all the pieces together in my head and starting to get the full picture of just what Hereditary might be about – and that’s something I’m still pondering, as the film has left me with much to think back on and reconsider its deeper themes and meaning. Again, I feel I should stress though, this is not congruent to the type of experience a general horror movie going audience might be wanting/expecting.
But what I can’t see anyone complaining about is the sublime cinematography by Pawel Pogorzelski and how he and Ari Aster use the camera in a calm, passive way to tell the story. With its unobtrusive colour palette and natural lighting, Hereditary is a refreshingly subtle film to look at and enjoy. And you’ll never struggle to get the opportunity to marvel at the films simple beauty, because writer & director, Ari Aster moves his camera with purpose – never cutting unnecessarily. He pans the camera around, letting the scenes speak for themselves; lingering on moments and letting the emotion build into something greater. The quiet moments are just as effective, if not more, than the bombastically intense moments. He lets the characters guide the story and the camera is simply there to capture it. It further plays into this not feeling like the conventional horror experience – there isn’t frantic cutting or scenes full of unrealistic lighting. It all feels more grounded and is far more interesting to look at.
But while the story and direction in Hereditary was compelling, the characters were something I found myself struggling with. I’m not entirely sure where the problem lay, but there were instances where I felt the characters were inconsistent in handling. Let’s take Toni Collette’s character and her performance for example: She delivers an intense performance. She quite often would overtake a scene with an incredibly performed monologue where the full attention of the scene would slowly crowd around her. But despite her at times incredibly powerful performance, there were moments where I felt her delivery was… off. I’m not sure if it was the lines she was given, the direction she was given or just her performance in certain scenes, but there was something that didn’t feel like it matched up. In fact, the same can be said for a number of the characters in this film, and again, I’m not sure as to what the specific issue was that was causing it.
I think that the primary suspect could be the films struggle to stay within the tone it initially set. There were a number of times in the cinema I was in where a particularly intense moment would occur, but instead of fear or discomfort traveling throughout the audience, there was laughter and confusement. One scene in particular had the audience in fits of hysterics and I myself was holding back a slight chuckle – and I can guarantee that was not the intended response for what was occurring. I think with the film feeling and looking so grounded in tone, it then began to butt heads with the supernatural elements it then later introduced. Those elements felt odd and even a little silly within the context of the larger film and thus began to result in moments where it was unclear what type of film Hereditary was.
This all made for a film and an experience that felt confused. I was fully interested in the plot of the film and the downward spiral of the characters involved – getting lost in the madness of the film was certainly enjoyable. But I also found myself unable to match the rhythm of the film. I always felt I was slightly out of sync with proceedings and I never found an equilibrium. Sometimes that can be great, but that’s because it feels intentional. In Hereditary it didn’t feel intentional, it felt mishandled.
But I could easily overlook all these issues and be fine with the film I watched, if it wasn’t for one nagging thing that keeps bugging me: Hereditary is not scary. Disturbing, yes, but never a film that had me wishing to hide from what was possibly coming. There wasn’t one point where I felt fear coursing through me; I didn’t feel my hands clenching and my heart rate increasing as things ramped up in intensity. I was certainly enjoying what I was watching, but I never found myself having any meaningful reaction to the film, minus one, maybe two scenes of particularly overwhelming emotions. I watched it, I liked it enough to want to keep thinking about it – I’m even tempted to see it again and try to discover some answers to the questions it has left me with – but overall, I feel Hereditary to simply be an okay thriller – not a horror (despite having a number of qualities that could make it seem like one)
I keep batting all these points back and forth in my head. I enjoyed my time watching this film. It did what I love any film to do and that’s have me thinking about it long after it’s done. But… it was never a film that I felt made any significant impact at the time. There is no standout moment that I think back on and vividly remember how it made me feel. So with Hereditary, I recognise all the makings of a great film; I just don’t see it to be one.
I’m still going to recommend, Hereditary, because I do think it is a good film, but there is a caveat to that recommendation and it is this: if you’re looking for an out-and-out horror experience where it has you leaping from your seat or wanting to grip the armrest as much as you can, then this film will not offer that type of experience. But if you’re looking for a film that’s more cerebral in nature, then Hereditary is definitely a film for you. If you do end up seeing it, I hope you enjoy your time with Hereditary.
What did you think of Hereditary and my review of it? Let me know in the comments section down below. If you liked what you read, why not consider following my blog directly. I also have a Twitter – @GavinsRamblings – which contains miniature ramblings. I want to finish by giving you my thanks for dedicating some of your time to reading this. Thank you and I hope to see you again.