What a haunting and visceral experience I’ve had with this film…it is beautiful and terrifying and fantastic. Perhaps more importantly, this movie is….subtle. There are things you won’t notice right away, that aren’t just thrown in your face haphazardly with a sudden loud noise (as has become expected with modern horror). Hereditary gives you that feeling you have when there’s a sudden breeze on your face, or you hear a loud sound from nearby with no cause in sight, or a Sunday morning where you wake up and it’s raining. The dreariness of this film is comparable to last year’s Wind River, but with a vastly different style and genre. You see, this is a horror film, but it is unconventional, comparable to a recent favorite of mine, The Witch. Hereditary is slow and tense and harrowing. Hereditary sinks its teeth in and wraps around you like a hellish python, squeezing until you’re finished. In my Wind River review I used a metaphor relating to a train which simply stops at the end with a sign stating simply, “Goodbye.” With this movie, imagine that same train, with a similar amount of grief, loss, drama, and generally immaculate acting ability on board, except this time the train goes off the rails and somehow keeps moving at high speeds. The train is now erratic and unpredictable, flying across dirt, and everybody thinks it will stop and that they can return to a more normal state of being, but alas, they are trapped. Hereditary keeps up the bewilderment and eeriness I’ve been wont to find lacking in contemporary horror. I saw A Quiet Place fairly recently, and I certainly did not think that film was abysmal, per se, but it was minimally creative and intelligent beyond its initial premise, which was thoroughly disappointing. The same could not be said for the tormenting torrent of terrifying travail that is Hereditary.
I’ll lightly touch on the story here, without spoilers, because it’s amazing. From a standpoint of horror films, the idea of supernatural occurrences with a family, at the house in which they live together, is ubiquitous. However, the sheer depth of ingenuity with which the film’s story is told struck me as incredible. I was taken aback by my level of surprise with the course of events. Many things are foreshadowed in ways I could not recognize until after they came to fruition, and I know that is vague, but there were small visual clues and dialogue hints which caused me to uncontrollably gasp at my realization, sometimes more than an hour after the clues were offered. That is masterful. Also, the way the crafted miniatures are used throughout the film is almost surreal in its horror and melancholy. Writer/Director Ari Aster deserves high praise for putting this together so effectively.
The actors are pretty universally brilliant as well. Toni Collette, who I think is amazing in general, (Watch Little Miss Sunshine, The Way Way Back, and the TV show United States of Tara) truly shines in this role as Annie, the mother. This is probably her best performance ever, and she deserves many awards for it. Oddly, I’ve never seen Alex Wolff in anything before, and I found his performance mesmerizing. He is in many ways a conventional teenage boy who is estranged from his parents, and he encapsulates that idea flawlessly. Beyond that, in the more horrific scenes, he is remarkable. In one scene he displays such shock that I was wildly impressed and haunted. There’s a subtlety to his work here (and everything else in the movie) which makes me want to see him more, especially dramatic roles. Milly Shapiro is wonderful as Annie’s daughter Charlie, and she has never acted in film before. However, Shapiro has actually worked on Broadway for years, which is not surprising somehow. Her acting ability is astounding for somebody so young and inexperienced, yet her character, who is mostly quiet and creepy, simply works. Really, everybody brings their best abilities to this film, and the actors probably couldn’t be more well-cast.
The cinematography is perfection. This is the acme of amazing and varied camerawork. There are long tracking shots and strange perspective shots. There are unsettling shots where half the creepiness is where the camera is focused, or even the fact that the camera is out of focus. Hereditary has various slow, simple panning shots that serve to reveal something, or grant a better view of what you’re seeing. The filmmakers knew when to cut, and when to keep the shot going, refusing to give way even a little bit. It’s almost claustrophobic in its tension. It really…..it is perfection. From a cinematography perspective, this film is the horror genre’s version of Blade Runner 2049 from last year. I might be able to think of some horror films which are very slightly better than this one overall, but definitely not purely in their camerawork.
The special effects are…um…….oh, god…..oh my god……oh jesus…..oh wow……I uhh……………..whoa…………………………..what……………………………………………..I don’t……ohhh……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..they are excellent. I try not to talk much during movies, but that was my reaction during a certain scene in which the effects were used marvelously. The design of the miniatures stands out as unbelievably amazing, and all the practical work as well as the computer effects are magnificent. I found no fault in this regard whatsoever.
The music is so good I’m running out of different adjectives to express enjoyment. It’s absent when it should be (unlike A Quiet Place, among other horror films as this is a common issue) and it’s low and dreary at times while building to a crescendo when necessary. I’ve actually listened to parts of the soundtrack today, not to remind me of it, as I generally wouldn’t need that whether the music was good or bad, but because it was really awe-inspiring. The grandiosity of one of the tracks is mellifluous and memorable. The sound adds to the film in incredible ways I can’t really describe without heavy spoilers. There are very simple, quiet sounds as well which serve the malevolent atmosphere tremendously. A certain noise, one that isn’t especially uncommon, is so effectively used in this film that even now, writing this review at my home, I would be somewhat unsettled should I hear it from around a corner. I don’t have a separate category for sound design outside of music, so I am lumping these together for now, but frankly, I’ve seldom been so impressed with a film’s use of sound.
The writing in Hereditary is also excellent, perhaps predictably so at this point, for a reader who didn’t skip over anything. It’s true though; there are dramatic scenes, without any horror, wherein the dialogue is wonderfully realistic and equally evocative of the apparently intended emotions. The efficacy of the writing is consistently impressive. My only complaint on this front might be that the lines given to the father were somewhat stereotypical of the sort of role he plays, and most side characters are given nothing interesting to say, but I can’t fault the film much for that, as it still fits everything.
Hereditary is Salient, naturally. This movie is the best horror film I’ve seen in at least 2 years, without a doubt. I cannot properly express how effective the slow-burn tension can be in Hereditary. I suppose that it isn’t a good mainstream movie, and it’s not a mindless jump-scare flick by any means; if you do not want to be challenged as an intellectual, you should avoid this one, but if you have been looking for a new smart, crazy, perfectly crafted horror film, I have found it in Hereditary.