A complex look at the demons our family passes & intricate grief-study escalating in delirium – with tremendously disturbing imagery, psychotic chess-like design, slow-burning atmospherics, and directorial talent-to-watch: Ari Aster. 7.6/10.
Plot Synopsis: When the matriarch of the Graham family passes away, her daughter and grandchildren begin to unravel cryptic and increasingly terrifying secrets about their ancestry, trying to outrun the sinister fate they have inherited.
*Possible spoilers ahead*
Review: Genealogy (n.) – a line of descent traced continuously from an ancestor. What do our parents pass us? What skills, traits, predispositions, looks, etc. are coded in our DNA from conception? Are any of those dark – placed inside us against our will? Early-30’s new director Ari Aster aims to answer that proverbial question in a chilled way in a coming-out party for the ages.. and ghost/demons story of Rosemary’s Baby-proportions. A complex look at the demons our family passes & intricate grief-study progressively escalating in delirium – with tremendously disturbing imagery, psychotic chess-like design, slow-burning atmospherics, and directorial talent-to-watch Ari Aster.
The imagery. The cold macabre that lingers long after the credits roll is that sadistic imagery that’s some of the wildest and most provocative since The Grudge. Seeing things like a little girl get decapitated and head torn apart by ants, vengeful spirits taunting a teen by using his own reflection to smile back at him, man go up in flames being roasted like a damn chestnut, apparitions watching from dark corners, and Annie strung up on the ceiling banging her head, self-mutilating with scissors, and Exorcist-crawling for a downright messed up turn events that ends about as wildly and cathartically as anything this year. Hereditary attacks you with that type of slow-burning, progressively-escalating, magnificently-finaled horror that feels from a lost era – like Aster himself is being controlled by an old soul from that time like the premise of this film. Perhaps even more horrifying than the imagery though is the intricate (psychotic) chess-like design inspiring paranoia of those around – family, friends, and even bystanders all pursuing hidden agendas with immaculate timing and exploitative manipulation – that hits you right where it hurts so twisted you don’t even know what hit you.
Technique and Toni Collette. From its opening 2-minute revolving long take serenaded by ominous chanting, the atmospherics and camera stylism are put on central display letting us know this team cares about the artform too. Snappy, stylish transitions like the light-to-dark shape-match time-lapse, unpredictability in what will happen in even the next frame, and cuts so quick you could blink and miss it dot the scape of this fantastically-executed film stylistically. The setting is okay – little dark-lit with a pretty-basic haunted house backdrop but serves its purpose – and score is good in arpeggiated strings and bass hits that help set the tone but a bit more would’ve been nice (addressed later). The performances are serviceable under the immaculate Toni Collette who powerfully leads the way in an emotional, grief-stricken turn just as investable delivering a line as she is screaming from the revelation of her daughter’s demise – as we’re taken through a grief-study rife with important commentary.
The grief-study. Skillfully weaved amongst all this unspeakable horror and aura-building is a striking analysis of despair as sad as it is uncomfortable (but necessary) to witness. We’re shown a family torn apart by fate’s cruel hands (meta-referenced in the Heracles classroom discussion accurately pinpointing it’s perhaps even harder-hitting in pain for the viewer/reader when the events are out of the characters’ control like pawns on a chessboard). They lose two members of the family – including one a child – in the span of a couple of weeks, the second in an accident that’s obliterating empathetically wherein everyone has a bit of the pie in blame yet the powers that be have the biggest slice. In Annie’s grief and desperation, she turns to a mysterious woman with some suspicious Easter Eggs/signs guising as an innocent bystander that would fool any conceivable person – who surgically lays the groundwork for the opening of the door to let the evil into Annie’s family and home in an elaborate, ancient tradition with the gravest of results. We feel for Alex Wolff’s character having to stomach what his bong-ripped actions led to, we feel for Annie just trying to find solace in the arms of a benevolent stranger (whose one-upped (fake) backstory also serves an important message that you are not alone in grief and there are others with similar or even worse situations that can help dilute some of the immeasurable pain that life can fling), we feel for the family trying to not assign blame and deal with the tragedy that befell them, etc. that makes the unraveling sadistically-effective.
Hereditary’s main flaw is that it does take a while to get going. The first act borders on uneventful/boring at times before it finally gets a pulse and starts moving the needle after he first 30-or-so minutes and escalates into great territory from there out. Alex Wolff is miscast and still feels a bit too Naked Brothers Band to be in such a pivotal role in horror far away from Nickelodeon shows. Shapiro’s character of the shady little girl-or-boy is also a well-troped cliché that didn’t need to be as ambiguous or forced (and might’ve actually served better as more buoyant/happy to highlight the crash and make it hit harder than it already did). Finally, the score and setting are okay – but can’t help but wish there was something better for this slow-burned a majestic horror flick.
Overall, Hereditary is a triumphant coming-out-party for new horror talent-to-watch Ari Aster. The opening act is pretty slow and Alex Wolff miscast for this pivotal a role, but it effectively delivers one of the best ghost stories in a while – in a harrowing familial motif that will leave you thinking/dissecting long after leaving the theater. A complex look at the demons our family passes & intricate grief-study escalating in delirium – with tremendously disturbing imagery, psychotic chess-like design, slow-burning atmospherics, and one of our most anticipated new freshman directors: Aster.
Official CLC Score: 7.6/10