Hereditary Review – Terrifying, beautiful and tense as f**k!
It is the day after watching Hereditary and I still don’t think my heart rate has returned to normal. Hereditary was heralded as ‘The new generation’s Exorcist’, a heavy role to fill. Yet this film lives up to that potential and deserves all the praise it has received.
Tense from start to finish it is a smart and well thought through horror film with an ending that leaves you staring at the credits trying to settle, breathe or simply understand. But this film never really leaves you. If you have watched it then we know what a long lasting impression it gives. If you haven’t
b) Spoilers ahead!
Hereditary follows the story of a family dealing with grief. After the death of her mother Ellen, Annie (Toni Collette) must deal with the fractured relationship they had and how this guilt interferes with the process.
Annie clearly deals with mental health issues and her family members each have their own problems. Her husband, Steve (Gabriel Byrne), the therapist trying to keep strong and protect his family. Peter (Alex Wolff), her stoic stoner son who doesn’t feel accepted or loved by his mother. Especially since ‘the paint thinner incident’. And then there’s her daughter, Charlie (Milly Shapiro), strange from the offset and disturbing throughout her run time.
The first act of the film is a haven of hint dropping and foreshadowing. Firstly, Steve is informed that Ellen’s grave has been desecrated, something he keeps from his grieving wife. After this, there is a beautiful monologue from Annie, who is attending a bereavement group. She informs the audience of the issues she has dealt with in life, and she has not had it easy. Her father stopped eating and died of starvation. Her brother committed suicide based on his beliefs that his mother was trying to ‘put people in him’. And her mother succumbs to dementia in her later life.
Charlie’s strange behaviour takes on a new meaning once the ending is revealed as well. In the film, she makes a ‘Klock’ noise at random intervals and creates strange headless toys along with headless drawings that would worry any parent. This headless theme keeps coming around with her beheading a dead pigeon with a pair of scissors and drawing the head with a royal crown atop later on. All of these points come back with a bang in the closing act.
It would be easy to think that Charlie has a huge role in the film. I mean, she’s front and centre on the poster! Yet, by the films halfway point her presence is removed. And it is removed brutally! As her brother races her to the hospital due to an allergic reaction she hangs her head out of the window gasping for breath. That’s when the dog in the road causes Peter to swerve. Charlie’s head crashes violently right into a utility pole with a familiar symbol carved into it. And Peter, in his shock, simply gets back in the car and drives on.
Fuck my theory that she would not actually have been hurt or would come back to life in some way. That is thrown right out of the window (sorry) with the lingering side by side shots of her dismembered head on the side of the road and ant-covered body in the back of the car. These shots were grotesque and just so out of nowhere, and I was reminded that not every horror film goes for the cheap cop out and supernatural scare. It’s ballsy to kill off a central character early in a film, and even more if that character is a bloody kid! Well-fucking-done Hereditary!
As the story continues Annie is now suffering from two losses, one of a child and one of a parent. When she considers returning to the bereavement group she attended earlier in the film she is cautious. Until the warming introduction of comforting, motherly Joan (Ann Dowd).
After Joan involves Annie in a seance to talk to her deceased grandson, Annie is convinced she can speak to Charlie again. She sets up the ritual, making sure as instructed that ALL the family were in the house, and using Charlie’s sketchbook as a conduit. This was Joan’s way of completing Ellen’s plan. To bring a demon called Paimon into her home to find his perfect male vessel. Now, who could that be?
Poor Peter. After the seance, he is haunted by the ever jolting ‘Klock’ sound, a jarring reflection of a demonic smile on his face, a self-beating and an ant attack. In almost a Donnie Darko-esque scene he follows a flow of light (something that unfortunately was one of the only bad special effects in this film) that seems to have lingered just out of sight in most scenes and made small cameos in other scenes. This is the call of Paimon.
This film ends in a high octane, insane fuck cluster of answers, questions and scares. Between the spontaneous combustion of Steve, Annie’s self-decapitation, the naked strangers, the headless bodies in a shrine to Paimon (including that of Ellen, dug up and rotting over) and the return of the ‘Klock’ it is the heart racing ending this film deserved. It is great to see a horror film that doesn’t let down in those final scenes for once!
As I said, this film is full of hints and clues throughout and these are beautifully woven within the narrative, especially the overarching use of Peter’s school life The lessons of Peter’s high school class are the themes of the film. Its something so easy to see in hindsight but that could easily be ignored on first viewing. He is studying Greek tragedies. There’s Iphigenia which involves human sacrifice, hint hint wink wink. And then they discuss Sophocles, specifically whether it is more tragic to cause your own downfall or to be fated to that downfall no matter what. And that’s the basis of this film. In one way or another, these events were going to happen. They are pawns, trapped in a dollhouse, being controlled by somebody else. Their actions were set into motion by powers beyond mere mortal understanding. It is set, it will happen, it is Hereditary.
Ari Aster’s film is stylistically beautiful. The cast is impeccable, selling every moment of the film and giving the right mix of over emotional acting combined with a traumatic lack of emotion in other scenes. The cinematographer knew exactly where to look and where to deny us from looking. Emotion is the backbone of this film with the use of tight close-ups and shallow focus shots that make us nervous for what is blurred just out of sight. The sound design was used incredibly throughout. The score added tension to scenes that weren’t necessarily tense, and that made me really notice when it quieted or disappeared. This film is one of the best examples of how effective silence can be!
2018 has been a great year for horror, finally, we fans of the genre are being presented with smart storylines, characters we actually give a shit about and more than just jump scares and torture porn! And the cliched horror expectations have been discarded. The day won’t save you. Witnesses won’t protect you. Hereditary doesn’t rely on simply making its audience jump and then allowing them the respite of a giggle or a ‘breather scene’. There is no breather, there is no break and the feeling of anxiety simply rises.
Hereditary is disturbing and deeply unsettling, with a feel of older classic horror such as Rosemary’s Baby. It is tense throughout with a slow burn rising. My stomach turned, my heart raced, my palms were sweaty and my body tensed (I’m hoping watching this film counted as exercise). This goes down as one of my favourite modern horror movies. The kind that is so interesting you want to watch it multiple times to get each hint and nuance, and yet so disturbing that the idea of putting it on again takes a pep talk, plenty of booze and willful encouragement.