Running Time: 127 minutes
Written & Directed by: Ari Aster
Featuring: Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd, and Gabriel Byrne
Charlie: “Who’s gonna take care of me?”
Annie: “Uh, excuse me? You don’t think I’m gonna take care of you?”
Charlie: “But when you die?”
While watching the new familial horror movie “Hereditary” (2018) I could not help but think of a few things, that there are two different kinds of horror audiences and there is a desperate need to anoint the next “Get Out” (2017) by critics as well as audiences which this is definitely not. I had such high hopes for “Hereditary” that I have to admit about half way through viewing it my thoughts were that this was a seemingly familiar plot, but I ignored my feelings and settled in for the inevitability that played out over the two hour plus running time of this genre piece. In my opinion if you are new to the horror genre or do not frequent the genre very often then this will be an excellent watch as well as something original for you to enjoy, I have no doubt of that at all, in that it succeeds. But for the more astute viewer or the follower of the genre this may seem all to familiar with some pivot points that still make it rather enjoyable and not just a straight cross between “Rosemary’s Baby” (1972) and “Paranormal Activity 3” (2011). The odd part about those two movies was that the protagonists are women or girls, this new movie makes it all about men which seems out of step with the current cultural zeitgeist as well as dating it somewhat to the point that when the end comes I could not help but feel that the masculinity that is played out is also sexist as well as of course, very very white. My one thought when the credits rolled was ‘only white people could get themselves into that much trouble’.
I am not going to give away too much as this is still an enjoyable movie without saying anything too original or ground-breaking, however some of the similarities to “Paranormal Activity 3” are undeniable. After all these years as well as the multiple entries into the ‘Paranormal Activity’ franchise there is much to roll your eyes at as well as just hating, but the highlight of the entire run, and the movie that actually made it harder to create more entries is the excellent “Paranormal Activity 3”. This was the movie that introduced plot points such as the origins of the demon that haunts the sisters, it also gave us the idea of a multi generational conspiracy that would bring about some sort of demon coming into the ‘real’ world, it made a coven of witches the force behind the conspiracy, it made it a feminist horror movie, it also in the end showed how ceremony was important and many other aspects. Not only did it do all of that, it made the movie a prequel set in the 1980s as well as introducing a true story about family that shows a young step father coping with his new family – although this does take a back seat at some point. What is interesting is that all of these points are present in this new movie “Hereditary”, with a few major differences, it is not a found footage film, it embraces the family aspect a little more, it has more up front tragedy, there is a much larger budget, it has some stars as well experienced character actors and it becomes a very white male centered movie, with some disturbing violence towards women. On the surface none of these similarities should make much difference to the enjoyment of “Hereditary” but in this political climate I am left wondering who this movie is actuallly made for.
“Hereditary” has been written and directed by Ari Aster who has seemingly come out of nowhere to create a movie that was a hit at this years Sundance, so coming into the general release he and his movie had some great buzz. There is not doubt that Aster has ticked all the boxes with his first movie, he has directed a genre movie, set in a limited location, with a modest budget and a somewhat good if not original idea, but this has paid off for him as his movie has been a critical hit as well as making money at the box office. Aster has a very good eye not only for detail but for letting his actors take centre stage without the need for many of the genre gimmicks that can sometimes let horror movies down. Not only that he has concentrated on the family drama questioning ideas that families have to face in regards to the loss of family members, the fear of being there for your family and a myriad of other true horrors that face families when there are issues or problems in life, that has to be applauded as the actual horror elements only come in effect in the last quarter of the movie. When these elements are introduced they hit the audience like a sledgehammer.
The movie is based around Annie Graham (Toni Collette), a miniaturist artist, who lives with her husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), their teenage son Peter (Alex Wolff), and their 13-year-old daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro). At the funeral of her mother, Ellen, Annie delivers a eulogy explaining her fraught relationship with her mother, who was extremely secretive. Shortly after, Steve is informed that the grave has been desecrated, while Annie thinks she sees Ellen in her workshop. At a support group for those who have lost loved ones, Annie reveals that, growing up, the rest of her family including Ellen suffered from a variety of mental illnesses that resulted in their deaths. The movie from this point takes off becoming part drama, conspiracy thriller and ultimately a horror with surprising gore as well as a twist.
The central element of this movie is the performance by Toni Collette who has over the years been terrific in some very good television and movie projects but it is in this movie where things have come together for her. Sure she is playing a mother, a sometimes thankless role right up there with the girlfriend but Collette makes it her own with some of the most excellent physical and emotional acting seen this year in any genre. This is a movie with few actual special effects so all the story and emotion has to be portrayed with some strong acting, it is here Collette succeeds so well with a part that could have been archetypical in someone else’s hands but she is able to transcend the shortcomings of the movie to really rise above it, expressing very real emotion throughout the running time. The only unfortunate aspect is the ending of the movie as well as her exit from it as it seems lazy and not worthy of her performance. Collette is supported by her three family members in actors Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro and Gabriel Byrne who all are very different in their roles offering real character support to Collette while maintaining their own plot points so they all feel like three dimensional characters which cannot be said for a majority of horror movies, so again the movie succeeds here in a big way. The final actor, and in a way someone who almost steals the movie is the amazing Ann Dowd who has made such an impact in the series “The Handmaids Tale” (2017-), here plays a duplicitous role, on one hand a friend or saviour on the other something else indeed, Dowd plays the part like a master character actor knowing just what to do in every scene.
As with all good horror movies there is a general feeling of unease as well as isolation, which is reinforced by the families home which is in a wooded area, it alos takes time to drive anywhere and we also see some wide open landscapes which speaks to this ongoing sparseness and again, isolation. The feeling of the world being a small one with little choices to be made is reinforced by the job/hobby that Annie performs, it seems that at some point was out of choice but now is something she must do for others, a reminder of that is made by phone calls and post it notes on her work which is making miniatures of her as well as her families life, something unique in the horror genre I believe. What these miniatures do is first and foremost act as almost as bookends of the movie which is a nice circular theme, as well as that they seem to show that the family but in particular Annie is unable to move forward beyond thoughts and actions which will ultimately lead to the climax of the movie which is signposted throughout the narrative, what we see in conclusion has been working its way through the entire movie.
“Hereditary” has been likened to recent genre films “The Witch” (2016) and “It comes at night” (2017) which is unfair on those two films as they are much more original as well as gripping and more part of the horror genre than the one here. That is not to say that this is a bad movie per se but there are more original stories around, this one will certainly not set the world alight with its originality but if you are wanting to have some scares that are built around a real family derma then this is for you. However if you are wanting a horror or some good scares with some originality the seek out this years big genre success “The Quite Place” (2018).
“Hereditary” is out now on DVD & Blu-ray.