A new film that proves thought-provoking independent horror is a genre here to stay.
Hereditary is a weird film in that it is hard to say what it is about without giving away major spoilers. After the death of her mother, Annie (Toni Collette) must deal with grief, and her troubled relationship with the woman. Annie’s husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), son Peter (Alex Wolff), and daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) deal with their own troubled family dynamic amidst this new stress.
The friction between children and parents is obvious, and we learn that Annie’s family is rife with mental illness—often leading to violence or tragedy. Her own children are wary of her, and the household simply feels off. While there is not a dud performance at all, Toni Collette proves that horror films can have deeply textured, interesting, and powerful characters. Her acting her is some of the best I have seen in a horror film ever. The excellent supporting cast propels this film into greatness.
My largest complaint with the film is how it was advertised. The previews make it look like a straight-up horror film, and it isn’t. Hereditary is more in line with the tone of VVitch, and works more as a family drama with a horror edge. I think people went in expecting something more like Annabelle, and this is probably why audiences are mixed on how they feel about this one. Further, aside from getting the genre wrong, the trailers really say nothing about the film. What it actually is turns out to be something much more interesting than previewed.
Annie’s profession is making tiny art, and we get a bird’s eye view of many of the events. Much of the narrative is inferred rather than explicit, and this makes the plot somewhat thin (but still interesting), and thus hard to discuss. The affective nature of the narrative focused on dread, suspense, and making the viewer feel more disturbed than terrified. The implications present, and often reinforced through Peter’s school lectures, make this chiller one to think about long after the credits roll.
We have a strong slow-burn through and through. The creep factor works best when the scares are minimal, powerful, and unpredictable. The last ten minutes verge more into the absurd as we begin to see more horror movie tropes crop up. I did not like the conclusion of the film—or I should say I did not like how the conclusion was presented. I think the tonal displacement doesn’t fully work. Conclusions are hard, and horror is perhaps the most difficult to conclude in an entertaining and satisfactory way. I have ideas on what I might have done slightly different, but I don’t think I could have made it perfect.
The film is made with the intent of being genuine art—something a lot of horror is missing. While not perfect, this is an excellent example of how the horror genre is long from dead or boring. The audience was tense throughout most of the film, and I found most of the narrative captivating.
In the theater, the audience seemed to react oddly to the conclusion. Some of the stranger scenes yielded laughter rather than a gasp. It isn’t a failure, and while it does prevent the film from being a true masterpiece, it does not prevent it from being a strong movie. I will watch the next film this team makes without hesitation. A strong film, just know you’re getting more of a drama. 8/10