Hereditary: Unconventional Horror Reigns King
This is an excellent horror movie that picks up the flavor of past A24 Films, such as The Witch. If you liked that film, go see this one on the big screen ASAP. Do not watch the trailers, do not read other reviews. Go in with as little visual knowledge as is humanly possible.
I thought about writing some very organized review of Hereditary, really mapping out the key points, the ways the director did this, and the actors did that, and I thought, “Man, that’s just so dry and boring. Speak from the heart. Just lay it out there.” So here we go.
Wow, this was an intense film. I can’t remember the last horror film I saw on the big screen that was so intense, so well done, and so original. I liked Mother! a lot, but that ending was insane. I liked A Quiet Place, but it was a little predictable. If you can catch this on the big screen, do so at once. Here’s why.
First of all, the style, cinematography, and overall look and feel was done very well. It was tense, beautiful, haunting, and weird—in so many places. It didn’t feel cheap, it didn’t feel derivative, it really kept me on my toes, riveted, just glued to the screen. If you like the arthouse vibe of the A24 Films that are coming out lately, not just The Witch, but others such as Under the Skin, even Enemy, then you’ll dig this. So visually—this was really great. And I have to mention that the sound and music really added a lot to the movie as well. The “clucking” of Charlie, the violence that escalated quickly—just some real depth as far as sensory details.
Above and beyond all of that I was surprised in several places—the plot, the slow burn (pun intended), the substance of what’s really going on—just wow. For example, Charlie. She is so weird, and yet, I love the little figurines she makes, the houses her mother Annie (played expertly by Toni Collette) creates just added layers to the story. The funeral during the beginning is strange. And when Charlie [major spoiler] has an allergic reaction at a party, we are already on edge as her older brother Peter (more great casting of Alex Wolff) drives her to the hospital. So when Charlie leans her head out the window, and Peter swerves, nearly hitting a telephone pole, decapitating Charlie? Damn, it’s unsettling. Plus, the way it’s handled—the sound, the lack of visuals, the shock on his face, and then the awful truth and reaction the NEXT MORNING, the screaming, etc. It’s upsetting. And shocking. Bit of a Game of Thrones plot choice there. Didn’t see it coming. There are a lot of moments like that.
But let’s get into the real meat of this review—what scared me? Charlie’s beheading and the reaction was shocking. That definitely had my heart racing. There were other visuals that really caught me off guard, hallucinations and imagined moments: Annie banging her head into the attic door; Peter covered in ants; Annie’s husband, Steve (more great casting of Gabriel Byrne) bursting into flames when you think it’s going to be HER; Annie hiding up in the corner of the room like a spider; Peter banging his head into his desk and bloodying (breaking?) his nose, after looking at his reflection smiling in a cabinet window pane; Annie cutting off her own head with a wire, etc. So many moments, and I’m not even including the ending (which I’ll get to in a moment). Suffice it to say there were a good dozen or so places where the tension was so great that my skin actually crawled, my hair raising up, sweat breaking out on my forehead. I was genuinely terrified. And I don’t just mean jump scares, though there were a few. I mean seriously disturbing, prolonged moments that I still can’t get out of my head. It was a nice mix of the visually stunning, the psychologically disturbing, and the emotionally draining.
Which leads me to the ending. If anything takes away from this film, it’s the ending. I thought it was overdone, way too much, not just the massive information dump where they try to explain the cult, the presence of Paimon, one of the eight kings of hell. Yes, we get there is a bloodline here that is tainted, it’s right there in the title. Yes, we saw the cult, and the action of the various secondary characters, such as Joan (again, brilliantly cast with Ann Dowd of The Handmaid’s Tale fame). But the headless bodies, the long exposition—for me, it was just too much. I thought it was spoon-fed to us, and went on way too long. For me, there is something about extreme violence—when you stay focused on it for too long, it loses its power. It starts to become too much—hard to look at, ridiculous, eventually silly. Maybe that’s just me. I’d rather have a glimpse, a few seconds, and not an eternity to stare at the ragged neck meat. It takes away from the power of the other elements that are playing out on the stage. I also had issues with the end of Mother!, so if you liked that ending, you’ll probably dig this. Then again, I am still thinking about Mother!, so maybe it worked in the end. Same with Requiem for a Dream, the way that film came together at the end, unwilling to let you look away.
If you are a fan of the A24 Films, go see Hereditary on the big screen, if it’s still playing by you. If not, rent it and watch it in the best definition, with the sound up, on the biggest television set you can find. If you liked The Witch, go see it. If you like unconventional horror, go see it. If you like horror that is a slow burn, go see it. If you are okay with violence in your horror, but demand more? GO SEE IT. It’s a fantastic movie.
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