Hereditary Review - Should You Believe the Hype?
Runtime: 127mins | Director: Ari Aster | Rating: 3.5 Stars
As I’ve mentioned in past reviews, I’m a huge fan of horror – both classic and modern. Unfortunately, though, the modern horror currently seems to be stuck in a state of decline.
Sure, you get the odd success every now and again – The Babadook, The Descent, Rec, etc. But, overwhelmingly, they have become predictable, reliant on jump scares and unoriginal – a prime example of this being the last horror film I reviewed – The Strangers: Prey at Night, which received my first 1 Star review.
Hereditary, however, (as with most horror films being marketed) was pegged as ‘the scariest film in decades’. Usually, I’m wildly distrustful of these superlative filled claims as they only lead to disappointment. But when critic reviews started being released which generally were positive, this baited my interest – “Perhaps Hereditary will be one of the rare modern successes?” I thought to myself.
So, was it a success, or was it the usual drivel?
In short, it was neither - it was a good film, enjoyable, but suffered a few slip-ups which let it down.
When Annie Grahame’s (Toni Collette) mother dies, her family begin to experience increasingly sinister events whilst slowly discovering strands of their dark and unsettling ancestry. With each new piece of information they discover, the more it makes them paranoid and desperate to outrun their past. Unfortunately, running away and ignoring the past is easier said than done.
This storyline may sound familiar and that’s because it somewhat intentionally is.
Like the Grahame family themselves, Hereditary is very much a product of its horror ancestry. Drawing inspiration from classics such as Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, The Shining and more recently, The Babadook, aspects of all of these shine through – in particular, Rosemary’s Baby.
Usually, this pick-and-mix approach to film isn’t my cup of tea as the film ends up feeling derivative rather than something original – however, Hereditary manages to avoid this pitfall and instead feels like a respectful, yet original, homage to ‘the greats’.
Another thing Hereditary did well which many other horrors don’t is that the acting was fantastic. And this is mainly down to the incredible cast that was assembled for it.
Toni Collette is a seasoned (if not somewhat typecast) horror veteran and her performance in Hereditary didn’t disappoint. Never have I come across an actress with facial expressions so naturally suited to dread. For example, there are several portrait shots in Hereditary where Collette stares directly into the camera, terror sprawled across her face, in a fashion that Daniel Kaluuya would be proud of.
To add to Collette’s towering performance, she is supported by none other than Gabriel Byrne who is reliably good in almost everything he does. Playing the sensible, peace-keeping, rational father of the household, Byrne is the only character throughout who you feel safe watching – he somehow exudes an aura of calm which in a film as tense as Hereditary is no small feat.
More impressively though, newbie Alex Wolff who I’d previously only seen in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle held his own. To go from a comedic film such as Jumanji straight to Hereditary is a tall order for even the best of actors due to the large difference in genre. Wolff impresses though giving a harrowing performance and I expect to see great things from him in the future.
Now, whilst both Collette and Wolff’s performances filled me with dread, I wouldn’t describe Hereditary as particularly scary - instead, I would say it’s extremely unsettling. I think there is a difference between the two.
Whilst watching Hereditary I wasn’t particularly scared at any one moment. Instead, I was left sitting there feeling very uncomfortable.
Throughout the film, there isn’t one moment where you feel safe. For example, in many other horror films most of the ‘scary’ stuff occurs at night, so when it cuts to a scene during the day you feel a moment of relief.
In Hereditary, this never happens – your breath is held throughout.
Whether it’s when the family is conducting a séance, a character is in bed asleep or sitting at school during a lesson, your guard is always up.
That being said, Hereditary did feel as if it was too long, and at points, as if it had run out of steam.
For a film that revolves around sustained tension, there is only so long you can keep an audience’s interest baited without giving them anything. For me, the pinnacle of cinematic sustained tension is The Blair Witch Project and that was less than an hour and a half in length. Hereditary comes close to double that and it feels noticeably excessive.
The ending of Hereditary, however, is one of the best endings to a horror film I have seen, but it also felt quite disjointed to the two prior acts.
Without giving anything away, it was one of the more interesting endings I have seen in a while and it was a shame that it took so long to get to it. Ideally, I’d have cut out a large chunk of the second act, got to the ending quicker, and then had some extra time exploring the repercussions it would have inevitably had.
Regardless of these flaws, Hereditary is a very enjoyable horror film. This is mainly down to the brilliant performances given by Toni Collette and Alex Wolff as well as the respect for the genre shown by newcomer Ari Aster. Unfortunately, though, it doesn’t achieve the superlative excellence it was supposed to due to an excessive runtime and disjointed ending.
It should also be noted that for a first feature film Hereditary was exceptionally good. If Ari Aster can continue to produce films like this in the future then we can expect great things from him.
To see the trailer – click here.