Following the death of Annie’s (Toni Collette) mother, she alongside her husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), teenaged stoner-son Peter (Alex Wolff) and troubled daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) try to move on with their life as usual. But her mother’s recent demise cast a long shadow on the seemingly cursed family that doesn’t get any better.
Words like “horrifying”, “terrifying” and “deeply upsetting” have been heavily buzzed all over the internet since Hereditary premiered at Sundance to overwhelming responses back in January. If that’s not enough, those who have seen it earlier even declared Hereditary as “the scariest horror movie ever made”. Which is why it got me interested to see if the movie really worth all the hype. Well, here’s what I felt after watching this movie during a media screening yesterday: mixed feeling. Scariest horror movie ever made? Nope, not even close enough. That honour (at least to me) still goes to William Friedkin’s The Exorcist.
But before I get to the part where I have that “mixed feeling”, here’s what I liked about this movie. Ari Aster, making his feature-length debut after spending years making short films, knows his way around with meticulous camera placements. With the help of Pawel Pogorzelski’s perfectly atmospheric cinematography alongside Lucian Johnston and Jennifer Lame’s crafty editing, Hereditary definitely triumphs in the technical area.
Then, there’s Colin Stetson’s unnerving score as well as clever uses of sound editing to evoke a sense of dread. This is something we need to see more in today’s horror movies. Not the kind where the genre relies heavily on (cheap) jump scares and frenetic editing to shock the viewers. Although there are still jump scares to be found in this movie, they are thankfully kept to a bare minimum.
Toni Collette is another centrepiece of this movie. I remembered the last time she made an impact in a horror movie was The Sixth Sense nineteen years ago. Her emotionally agitated, though sometimes over-the-top performance as Annie is worth mentioning here (check out the dinner scene where she finally let out all her bottled emotion in front of her son, Alex Wolff’s Peter). Both Wolff and Milly Shapiro deliver solid supports, while Gabriel Byrne’s perfectly subdued role contrasted well against Collette’s vividly operatic character.
Hereditary does have the potential of becoming a modern horror masterpiece. In fact, the movie begins promisingly and builds the pace confidently as we watch the family dealt with the death of Annie’s elderly mother. Then, strange things start to happen. The house where they lived in is seemingly cursed and haunted. Annie’s emotionally distant daughter, Charlie has been acting weird ever since her grandmother died. When another tragedy strikes again (something that I wouldn’t want to spoil here), it looks to me that the movie is going to get better.
I waited. Wondering where Ari Aster would take me next. So, the movie begins to subvert my expectation as Aster offers a few twists and turns. Frankly, I don’t mind if he does that. But the problem is, the movie’s shifting tone left me both perplexed and disjointed. Not to mention, there are certain scenes — particularly during the second half of the movie — turned out to be unintentionally laughable.
Sure, Aster does manage to redeem himself during the riveting third act. Unfortunately, it doesn’t last long when he reveals another twist. The final twist right before the movie ends. The ending itself does catch me off guard, but not in a good way. Instead, it felt cheesy and I’m not sure whether I should take it seriously or not. That is why I have this mixed feeling after watching the movie.
It’s a shame that Hereditary turns out to be a mixed bag after all. I would say Ari Aster’s feature-length debut is decent enough but definitely far from the widespread acclaim it meant to be.