It seems almost counterproductive to begin a review by suggesting that the film is best enjoyed knowing as little as possible… but it is true. This review does not contain spoilers but does feature some discussion of content.
Hereditary is an utterly compelling horror which revolves around a family in a crisis of grief. I do feel that the trailers may have done it something of a disservice, but it is difficult to think of any other way it could have been presented without giving too much away.
The film clearly owes a debt to numerous psychological horrors, with frequent close ups of Toni Collette’s contorted face evoking Danny Torrance’s wide-eyed reaction to the horrors of the Overlook Hotel to name just one. Despite this, Hereditary creates it’s own scares, rather than recreating well known and regarded ones.
The strength of Hereditary lies in a particularly frantic performance by Toni Collette, who is bolstered by an impressive supporting cast. Milly Shapiro is a real highlight in taking on a particularly meaty role for someone so young. Alex Wolff as Peter is strongest in the scenes he shares with Collette but ably handles the weightier moments. Gabriel Byrne puts in an understated performance providing an anchor within the unfurling horror.
It must be stated that Hereditary is pure horror melodrama and the excess in terms of performance arguably won’t work for everyone. For me, it works, and provides suitably extreme reactions to extreme situations.
The way that Hereditary is shot is arguably what will make its mark on the horror genre. Ari Aster’s vision incorporates long, slow takes which encourage the viewer to absorb the environment. This pays off to daunting effect on a number of occasions. These are not subtle moments, but in a genre which too often punctuates scares with a booming orchestra, having moments where looking closely is rewarded feels immensely satisfying.
While some may point to the construction of miniatures as a contrivance, the main thing it adds is an altered perspective. Often the camera is used to drift in and out between miniatures and the house they are stored in. This frequent changing of size and direction adds to a sense of confusion which increases during the film’s climax. This, along with rapid changes from day to night work well to produce a disquieting effect.
So, with all the marketing claiming it as immensely scary…is it? In short, yes. This is a film which takes risks with its content and uses the aforementioned camera trickery to throw even seasoned genre fans off the scent of the next scare. I lost count of how many times I realised I had not taken a reasonable breath during the film and had to quietly remind myself. I think that speaks more than anything to the film’s power to intrigue and keep focus.
Hereditary is a film which will undoubtedly reward repeat viewings and further exploration of the film is something I’m looking forward to. It is wonderful to see a film which is so thoughtfully designed, tackling disturbing material in a mainstream release.
Hereditary is out in the UK now. Go to www.hereditarymovie.co.uk for more information and tickets.