Upon starting Hereditary, one thing is abundantly clear within several minutes: even if you had been living under a rock for the last five months and had heard nothing of the enormous hype surrounding Writer-Director Ari Aster’s feature length debut, you would realise within minutes that this films marks the arrival of a major new talent to the horror genre.
Having wowed the critics and the Festival circuit for the last five months or so, Hereditary finally arrives with a huge cloud of hype foreshadowing it.
But is it actually any good?
The simple answer is: yes. Hereditary is an absolute masterpiece.
Not that I would give any plot details away here anyway of course but like many of the very best horrors (‘The Thing’, ‘Martyrs’, ‘The Descent’), this really is a film to just watch without knowing anything about it. Also like many of the very best horrors (‘The Exorcist’, ‘Rosemary’s Baby’, ‘Get Out’ , ‘Kill List’), this film is a deliberate slow-burner.
The viewer will think it’s taking its own sweet time to start going anywhere, but then you realise after about half an hour it’s actually been getting under your skin since the opening scene. It’s that well-made.
The family’s simply enormous house, the ambiguous nature of Annie’s job, the constant use of wide camera-shots which will have the audience scouring the background of the frame for things, all these odd touches culminate in the viewer’s mind so that the mounting sensation is that something is very wrong indeed, but the viewer just doesn’t know what.
The film is filled with long, slow scenes of sometimes unbearable stillness and quietness that has the audience bracing itself for a cat to screech out or an incongruously loud phone to ring. But this is one horror film that won’t cave in to such cheap horror tropes.
No, there is nothing here to break to inexorably mounting dread, and I think just one deliberately amusing moment. It’s telling that the film’s biggest shock moment (which actually made me gasp) happens about halfway through the film and is also probably the most understated shock-moment of the film (or any film I can remember, for that matter). Don’t worry: when it happens, you’ll know.
A clutch of perfect performances from a quietly, beleaguered Gabriel Byrne, a fantastically odd-looking Millie Shapiro, Alex Wolff – who is not above wailing in agonised distress like a traumatised little child – and a career-best performance from Toni Collette, who is an absolute tour-de-force as she battles not only the supernatural forces, but also her unravelling family life and her not-insignificant mental health problems as well.
Masterfully terrifying music by Colin Stetson seeps through the film almost unnoticed until you realise it’s been there all along. The fabulously odd cinematography by Pavel Pogarzelski makes the house itself a comforting friend and terrifying enemy throughout – cavernous and yet still claustrophobic, in a surely-deliberate homage to The Overlook Hotel in ‘The Shining’ – and of course the terrific and genuinely distressing story arc is a twisted delight to behold.
Packed full of genuinely harrowing and terrifying silent scenes as well as imagery the viewer will find very difficult to unsee (ants…piano wire, anybody?) right up until it’s incredibly grim closing frames, viewers should pay very close attention to what’s going on in the background as – much like last year’s ‘Get Out’ – this film is full of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments and almost every scene has something just a little bit ‘off’ with it, in a way you really can’t quite put your finger on.
All- in-all, an exceptional slow-burn horror which is isn’t afraid to ask more questions than it answers, this is a masterful example of the show-don’t-tell school of film writing.
A mostly-quiet, slow, harrowing and absolutely petrifying horror that really does deliver on its enormous hype in spades.
Project Square Eyes – Tuesday the 18th of June 2018