Written By: Casey Baun
Edited By: Grave Reviews Staff
Director: Ari Aster
Producer: Kevin Frakes, Lars Knudsen, et. al.
Screenwriter: Ari Aster
Date Released: January 21, 2018
Toni Collette as Annie Graham
Gabriel Byrne as Steve Graham
Alex Wolff as Peter Graham
Milly Shapiro as Charlie Graham
Ann Dowd as Joan
Rating = 4/5 Graves
***May contain some spoilers***
WHAT WE HAVE SEEN
This past year, we have seen a recovery in the quality of horror films. The 2017 remake of IT based on Stephen King’s infamous novel shattered box office. Jordan Peele’s Get Out was truly unsettling as it thrummed with suspense and racial tensions. Seeing this trend in quality horror films, I had high expectations for the film, Hereditary, and I was not disappointed. Being a seasoned horror fan as well as a veteran actor from multiple haunted attractions, I am not an easy scare.
Hereditary perforated the fabric of this horror trend and left me on my seat in discomfort well after the credits had rolled. The plot is constructed slowly but effectively. What was arguably the most upsetting and horrific scene blindsiding the audience about a mere half hour into the film. However, the pace of discomfort and shock continued throughout the film.
I was pleased to see that Toni Collette (The Sixth Sense) has shown the film industry the last of her incredible acting skills. For an actor who claims not to be a horror buff, she excels beyond compare in movies with darker undertones. She did fantastic in her role as a harried mother wrestling with grief and tumultuous relationships with her own children. These sobering concepts are strikingly similar to the main themes of The Babadook starring Essie Davis; Collette and Essie Davis mirror each other uncannily with their characters’ weary countenances and hurricanes of emotion. Furthermore, Toni Collette bravely forgoes the long-standing but ineffective Hollywood trope of “crying pretty” and tackles the scenery with anguished howls and grotesque facial contortions.
Further, coming in at a close second is Alex Wolff (My Friend Dahmer). In addition, the actor undertook the task of purposefully meditating in a bleak mental state so that he could immerse himself in the role. His shell-shocked stares and tears sell the indescribable traumas his character faces. This was also a debut feature film for both director Ari Aster and child actor Milly Shapiro. Both faithfully plunged headlong into the project, giving us a promising glimpse of their capabilities for future work. Shapiro’s pensive clucking noises and her brooding withdrawal from her surroundings clue us in that there is something not quite right about her character. She is suggested to be a vessel for the demon king Paimon, and her behavior could be representative of mental illness and how it makes those with such afflictions feel.
My only criticism about Hereditary (2018) was that for a film with an intense buildup that picked up pace mercilessly, the ending was rather flat. I felt that it could have benefited from the feverish zeal that the rest of the film seemed to carry, perhaps a little extra impact. That aside, Hereditary left a lasting impression on me. And others seemed to agree.
“It was a fresh take on cult activity, and also a great look at human relationships and mental health issues,” said Ally Barber from Buffalo. “Hereditary was uncanny and disturbing. I felt hopeless and frantic, and Toni Collette was amazing. That was beyond creepy,” added Sam Jindra, also from Buffalo. Aster puts the audience through an emotional wringer with no holds barred as the film takes unspeakably awful “What if’s” from our darkest imaginations and regurgitates it back into our faces, giving our most desolate nightmares a heartbeat.
Perhaps what makes Hereditary (2018) so unsettling is that it stares us dead in the eye without reservation. We do not necessarily understand these fears immediately. It poses unpleasant questions that we do not want to ask ourselves, much less answer. What if I lose my loved ones in a tragedy? What if I dislike my own children? What if the ones who are supposed to protect and nurture us have a far grimmer agenda? These are fears that go beyond urban legend campfire tales. We can laugh them off as untrue but they can still touch us. They are real. Although watching Hereditary was hard on the nerves and heart, I highly recommend seeing Ari Aster’s groundbreaking first feature film and hope there will be more to follow!
For the foregoing reasons, Grave Reviews gives Hereditary (2018) four graves out of five graves.
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