Review by Thad Timothy; Writer, Cult Classic Horror
Review Rating: 5 out of 5
Starring: Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Milly Shapiro, Alex Wolff, and Ann Dowd
Written and Directed by: Ari Aster
About the Film
After debuting at the Sundance Film Festival on January 21, 2018, Hereditary appeared to become one of the most highly anticipated films of the year, even outside of the horror community. Proving its hype was real, the film, which was expected to gross $5-9 million its opening weekend, finished fourth at the box office raking in a whopping $13.6 million dollars – marking the highest opening for any A24 film. The film went on to gross $44 million in the United States and Canada, and $35.3 million in other countries, for a worldwide gross of $79.3 million against a $10 million dollar production budget. Hereditary is critically acclaimed and currently yields a score of 89% on Rotten Tomatoes and 87% on Metacritic as well as an overall user review score of 7.6/10 on IMDb.
Hereditary centers on the grief-stricken character of Annie, brilliantly portrayed by Collette, who is coping with the recent passing of her psychologically abusive mother and the mysterious circumstances consequential to her death. The story beings with a dollhouse that’s sitting stationary in the middle of a room. As the camera slowly zooms into one of the dollhouse rooms, its content comes to life thus suggesting that the characters of this story are merely possessions (dolls) under the control of something greater. Following the film’s opening sequence we are introduced to Annie and her family, husband Steve (Byrne), son Peter (Wolff), and daughter Charlie (Shapiro) who are all dressed in differing shades of black. We learn that Annie’s mother has passed away and the family is preparing for the funeral. Despite the gloomy circumstances, it becomes immediately apparent that something is amiss with young Charlie. Eerie tongue clucks, head tilting, and a constant daydream-like gaze further support this assumption as the character of Charlie develops. Plagued by tragedy and haunting memories, Annie fights to hold onto her wavering sanity as a malevolent force threatens to take control of the family bloodline.
Hailed as “The Exorcist” of this generation, Hereditary was not only the most anticipated horror film of 2018 but it just may be the best... save the upcoming "Halloween (2018)" perhaps. Though full of disturbing images and graphic violence, Hereditary is, at its core, a slow-burn domestic drama about how trauma, resentment and guilt can take root within the family tree and rot it to its very core.
Before we go much further, it’s important for horror fans to understand that Hereditary falls into the category of slow-burn horror, alongside such films as "The VVitch (2016)" and "It Comes at Night (2017)." Films such as these are often loved and hated for their complex and ambiguous plotlines which leave most of the horror for the viewer to interpret. Though reminiscent in terms of formula, Hereditary sets itself apart by incorporating more visual horror than its aforementioned predecessors and the supernatural element attached to the story is enough to make one consider sleeping with the lights on after viewing. Some may dislike the films subtly and measured pace but through it, director Ari Aster is able to create an immense amount of tension and discomfort that accompanies you throughout the films entirety. From the film’s brilliant opening scene to its disturbing conclusion, I felt as though I was residing under a black cloud of dread and despair from which there was no relief. At times I wondered what in the ‘hell’ I was watching, at other times I wondered whether or not I should be watching. Mind you, the content and underlying themes of this film will not affect everyone the same way. It will scare the hell out of (or into) some or bore others. Some will find it terrifying, some will find it cheesy, and some will find it to be just “ok.”
With that, let’s discuss one reason why everyone, in and outside of horror, should see this film at least once. TONI COLLETTE. Every once in a great while the Academy will recognize achievement in horror. This better be one of those times. Though I think Hereditary deserves multiple nominations there is no question that, at the very least, Collette should get one. If she doesn’t, there will no longer be any question as to whether or not the Academy hates horror. Not that there is much of one now but you get my point. While I can’t say I’ve ever been disappointed with her performance, Collette went to the next level in Hereditary and definitely raised the bar for future horror heroines. Young Milly Shapiro also gave a great performance as did Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, and Ann Dowd.
Additionally, the mythology behind the supernatural element in Hereditary is quite disturbing and serves as a perfect metaphor for what the film is really about. Aster scatters pieces of the story’s puzzle throughout the entire film which, when pieced together, foreshadow the events to come. This is definitely a film I look forward to seeing again as I know there is plenty left to discover.
Hereditary hits Blu-Ray and DVD on September 4th, 2018
Fans of slow-burn horror and dark subject matter will more than likely love Hereditary and to them, I highly recommend it. However, even if you aren’t a slow-burn fan, I still recommend you watch it at least once for its visual horror sequences and outstanding performances.
Additional Trivia (minor spoilers)
- This film was director Ari Aster’s feature debut.
- This was the fourth A24 Films movie to get a wide release. The other three were The Witch (2015), Free Fire (2016), and It Comes at Night (2017).
- In one scene, there is a laptop playing a black and white video of a man being beheaded by a guillotine. In another scene, the character of Charlie cuts off the head of a pigeon. Both scenes foreshadow shocking events that occur later in the film.
- The original cut of the film included more dialogue which pushed its run time to three hours.
- In Peter’s first scene at school, the words “Escaping Fate” is on the chalkboard and the teacher discusses it. This is a reference to Halloween (1978), where the same subject is discussed during the lead characters class.
- The eerie trailer for this film was allegedly shown, by mistake, to a theatre full of children attending a screening of Peter Rabbit.
- Actor Alex Wolff was willing to break his own nose for the scene where his character slams his head into a desk. The director respectfully declined his offer and used a cushion to soften the blow so to prevent any harm to the actor. Ironically, Wolff dislocated his jaw during this scene due to the cushion only covering the top half of the desk.