Starring: Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Gabriel Byrne
Director: Ari Aster
Running Time: 127 mins
Hereditary is an American film about a family suffering in grief after the death of their eldest relative, who begin to experience mysterious and horrifying events as their emotions spiral out of control.
Almost never have I been as frustrated with a film as I was with Hereditary. On the one hand, it’s a deeply affecting and riveting personal drama with some of the most emotionally intense sequences you’ll ever see from a horror film, complete with a couple of stunning performances and real dramatic intrigue right the way through. On the other hand, it misses out on the opportunity to really make that side of the story flourish, and instead reverts to dull horror clichés that, despite some visually strong directing, are neither scary nor thrilling, unfortunately overshadowing the often brilliant drama on display here.
There’s a whole lot to talk about with Hereditary, and I’ll start with the positives, the biggest of which has to be the film’s dramatic side. In similar fashion to the likes of The Babadook, Hereditary is a horror with a strong dramatic core linked to intense emotional trauma, and there’s absolutely no doubt that this film packs an incredible punch at times.
Despite a slow half hour opening that’s rather frustrating, a shocking turn of events sparks the film into life, and suddenly turns the dramatic intensity up to eleven, as we begin to see how different characters cope with shock and grief, and how those complex emotions impact their relationships with one another.
All in all, this is a film about grief, and how it can so easily tear someone up inside, and consequently lead to their entire world falling apart, something that’s displayed in shockingly brutal but utterly enthralling fashion throughout, complete with stunning dialogue between the characters that strikingly demonstrates their emotional trauma, and furthered by some excellent performances from Toni Collette and Alex Wolff in particular, both of whom surpass the horror genre nature of the film and give some truly riveting and dramatically powerful turns right the way through.
As a result, I was really impressed by Hereditary’s dramatic depth and power, so you can imagine how disappointed I was to see that it’s not actually the film’s main focus.
While Hereditary at times manages to hit you incredibly hard with its dramatic story about the intensity of grief, the majority of the film is still little more than a typical horror flick, failing to link the more generic thrills and spills to the more riveting dramatic depth in any way, and as such ending up as a rather underwhelming and incredibly disappointing thriller.
As I said, the beginning is slow and frustrating, something that largely stems from a lack of dramatic depth, with director Ari Aster seeming content to show some mysterious events along to an ominous-sounding score. Now, while that does undoubtedly create somewhat of an air of mystery, it’s by no means enough to engross you from the start of the film, and the repetitive nature of that over the first half hour quickly becomes really boring to watch.
When the drama is at its best, this film is exhilarating, but that subsides a little as the middle act comes to a close, by which time the movie just becomes another supernatural horror. I expected a thrilling and powerful reveltaion in which our characters’ deep emotional grief was mirrored in the horrific events they begin experiencing, but I was extremely disappointed to see the story in the end turn into a rather laughable fantasy full of spiritual gobbledygook that really undoes the ingenious work of the drama in the central portion.
I won’t deny that the film looks fantastic, and Ari Aster does a good job at creating tension throughout, particularly in one long sequence towards the end of the movie, but when there’s so little depth and such laughable horror on display, that really isn’t enough to impress.
Overall, then I was hugely disappointed with Hereditary. At times, it is an ingenious dramatic piece that will thrill and shock you to the core, and that sets it up with the potential to be one of the most exhilarating and affecting films of recent years. Unfortunately, however, the film really jumps the shark in its final act and ignores the brilliant story that has been set up before, making for an exceptionally frustrating and very underwhelming conclusion to something that could have been so great, which is why I’m giving it a 6.8.