Movies & TV / Columns

A Bloody Good Time: Is Hereditary Worthy Of The Hype?

June 15, 2018 | Posted by Joseph Lee

Opening Logo courtesy of Benjamin J. Colón (Soul Exodus)

I have a lot of thoughts about Hereditary.

The film is very interesting, because like Darren Aronofksy’s Mother! (which, admittedly, I haven’t seen yet), it had a pretty abysmal CinemaScore from casual movie fans, who didn’t seem to like it. However, critically, it’s probably one of the best horror films of the year. It ended up being A24’s biggest horror hit at the box office, or it soon will be. So what’s with the disconnect between the average movie-goer, critics and hardcore horror fans?

So instead of giving it a friendly, spoiler-free review of Hereditary for the sight, I thought I’d give my full thoughts here, as well as look at what mainstream audiences may have found so unappealing about it. I’ll provide a short, non-spoiler review for those who want to know what I thought, but otherwise this thing is going to get pretty deep. You almost have to to get into the plot and what makes this thing tick.

I think unlike its divisive predecessors like It Follows or The Witch, this is the one that’s going to be discussed back and forth for a long time. It has a feeling of a cult classic pretty much from watching it, even if you may not like it. I can see some people calling it one of the best of the decade, and apparently there were some that said it was “scarier than The Exorcist.”

It’s not, and that’s a ton of hyperbole, but you have to expect that from reviews these days. We live in a world where Bloody Disgusting called Blair Witch a “game changer.” You just have to take horror reviews with a grain of salt. That includes mine, by the way. The purpose of my reviews has always been to give my take and possibly convince you to at least see a movie or see it from a different perspective.

To sum things up, Hereditary is definitely scary. It has some outright shocking moments, and one moment that some (including myself) may feel goes too far. Toni Collette is amazing in it, it has a great sense of how to build up expectations and use those to deliver scares from the simplest things. It relies on some similar tricks that James Wan used in The Conjuring in terms of its scares. There are really no jump scares to speak of, and while not all the scares land, it manages to have this thick sense of dread throughout. I’d recommend seeing it in theaters, where you can take advantage of its use of sound in a way home video might not replicate.

If that’s enough of a spoiler-free review for you, scroll past the photo for the rest of my thoughts.

My very first thought after seeing Hereditary was that it was unpleasant. That could be seen as negative but it’s really not. Horror can make you feel a variety of things. There’s the kind like say, The Thing, which has plenty of shocks and fun, safe scares. Then there’s movies like The Wicker Man that work on a more psychological level and make you feel uncomfortable. I’m not saying Hereditary is on the level of either (it’s far too fresh to make that call), but it’s definitely more like The Wicker Man.

It’s unpleasant and it’s, at times, difficult to watch because of its subject matter. It’s a movie about grieving and how a family deals with loss. As it turns out, it’s not nearly as neat and clean as other film make it out to be. Sometimes you feel nothing when a person dies and you hate yourself for it. Other times you cannot function and may lose your mind a little bit. I’ve felt both ways about various people in my life. One death left me more numb than anything else and the other put me in a deep depression. If you remove any supernatural elements, I think we all know someone like each member of the family pictured. In terms of capturing the aftermath of loss, Hereditary is one of the best I’ve ever seen.

It’s through the grief of loss that Annie (Collette) perhaps makes some poor decisions because she’s not thinking straight. That eventually leads to the destruction of her entire family, including herself, because she dismisses clues that everything’s not as it seems. It’s hard to function after a death, so it’s easy to ignore that this random stranger was not at your group therapy session and is perhaps a bit too interested in you. It’s also easy for people to assume you’re crazy when stuff begins happening because your grief has already made you a little crazy.

The biggest moment in the film is when the thirteen-year-old Charlie (Milly Shapiro) is brutally killed in an accident. And I’m not kidding when I say “brutally.” She’s beheaded after sticking her head out of a car window and getting slammed into a telephone pole. And in the moment that I feel is too far (but you may disagree), they show the poor child’s head on the side of the road, tore up from impact and seemingly picked at by animals. I’m not going to call for ban of the film or anything like that, but that moment really messed me up.

On one hand, I feel as though the movie didn’t need it. We get a great scene later where a sobbing Annie explains what Charlie looked like when she found her body. And honestly, if this were a fair and just world, she’d be up for Oscar nominations for this performance. On the other, perhaps it did to keep with its themes of shock and loss. It manages to kill your expectations right away that this is going to be a fun horror movie. It’s the moment that lets you know Hereditary is not playing around.

The movie spends a lot of time building up the tragedy of this family and their breakdown due to grief. The teenage son, otherwise unaffected by the death of his grandmother, becomes an absolute mess at causing his sister’s death. The mother loses her mind and finds herself easily buying into the supernatural. The father seems like he’s fine at first, but he’s really just trying his best to hold things together. Before his final scene, it seems he’s close to having Annie committed.

It’s at that point that we get the supernatural story in. Director Ari Aster said this was intentional, as he wanted to build up the drama within the family before exposing the audience to the more fantastic elements. It definitely works. I think that by fraying the nerves with the intensity of the grief, the emotional arguments and the stark portrayal of loss, he leaves them more open to being scared by everything that comes later. It’s a level of emotional manipulation that a lot of directors aren’t capable of and it totally works.

It’s possible that you may feel that the supernatural element is out of place. Others may feel it doesn’t happen soon enough. I tend to believe that it’s expertly-paced and doesn’t overstay its welcome. And when things start getting insane, they really get insane. I’ve spoiled a bit but I do not want to spoil the final ten minutes at all because that’s where a lot of the scares come from. It’s one hell of a ride getting there, but once it happens, it will stick with you.

I think that’s the biggest compliment I can give to this movie. It sticks with you. It’s two days later and I still can’t stop thinking about it. I’m not entirely sure I want to ever watch it again, but that’s due to the intensity more than anything else. I can’t say I “enjoyed” Hereditary in the same way that I enjoyed A Quiet Place (effective for different reasons) earlier this year. I can say that it’s very well-made, and automatically made Aster a filmmaker I want to keep watching.

But as with all horror reviews, take it as a mere recommendation and see this thing yourself.

So that goes back to my initial question. If Hereditary is such a great film, as I think it is, then why are mainstream audiences rejecting it? I didn’t see a frame of footage prior to checking it out but I did know of the D on Cinemascore. I assumed that it was going to have a slow pace like The Witch or be the victim of bad marketing like It Comes At Night. However that’s not it. The pacing is fine and rewatching the trailer the marketing is mostly as accurate as it can be without spoiling the big twist.

The negative critical reviews I saw, which I assume are closer to the mainstream reaction, offer a little more insight. Some complain about the horror elements and the ending, saying the film is at its best as a psychological drama. Others compared it unfavorably to Rosemary’s Baby and other simply said it wasn’t scary. Scares are ultimately subjective, as is comedy, but I felt it was very effective in that regard. I honestly think it’s probably closer to Don’t Look Now, which a negative review later pointed out. That film is also about grief, struggling to come to terms with the loss of a child and the insane things you’ll do as a result. Is Hereditary as good? I can’t say that.

Perhaps we just live in a world where some audiences (not all) think that horror just has to be a certain way. It’s the same reason Wes Anderson comedies don’t play as well as something like Game Night did. Both have their merits, but approach comedy in two very different ways. It’s the same thing here. A more mainstream film, like IT from last year, plays better because it’s straight horror. It has a recognizable monster, jump scares and is more mainstream friendly. Hereditary has none of that. That’s not to say the mainstream approach is bad. I loved IT and named it as my favorite horror film of last year. I’m more excited about Halloween than any other horror film this year. But I think perhaps audiences should realize that there’s room for both and try to be more accepting of films that go against the grain.

Or maybe they just thought it wasn’t scary. I don’t really have a defense for that.

Arthouse horror is becoming more prevalent, as filmmakers use the genre as a means to tell a story instead of going for cheap thrills. Cheap thrills are fine and can be immensely entertaining, but it’s good to remember that stories are important too. Using horror to send a message is nothing new, as some of the most popular horror films did it. Hopefully audiences can be more accepting of different takes on the genre, but even if they don’t, it’s good to know that directors and screenwriters are still trying new things.

So how do you feel about Hereditary? Do you agree with the backlash? Do you think it’s worthy of the hype? Be sure to leave your thoughts below and we’ll discuss. And go see it if you haven’t. Even if you don’t like it, I think it’s a movie you should experience in a theater.

Ending Notes:

That’s it for me. Leave some comments here, on my Twitter or my Facebook.

Closing Logo courtesy of Kyle Morton (get your own custom artwork and commissions at his Etsy account)

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