Benjamin Smart reviews the horror film marketed as "this generation's Exorcist", Hereditary
I’ve been thinking about Hereditary a lot recently. In fact, it’s the rare occasion of a film that hasn’t left my mind since watching it.
Hereditary follows the struggles of a family who, after the loss of a Grandmother, find their lives wreaked with a series of misfortunes. From the opening moments, it’s made clear that something is off. Toni Collette plays Annie Graham, the mother of the family whose job as an artist allows her to manifest her grief in her work. Her studio is filled with dioramas that represent aspects of her life, miniature recreations built in painstaking detail that allow her to exert control in this tumultuous period. As events unfold and tensions rise within the family, her work becomes an obsession that sheds light on the horrors taking place as we question who - or what - is pulling the strings in the Graham household.
Collette steals the show with her grief-stricken portrayal of a mother teetering on the edge of sanity, but the supporting cast also do a fantastic job in this warped family drama. Hot on the heels of his standout role in My Friend Dahmer, Alex Wolff is on top form as the family’s teenage son. Attempting to live the life of a regular high schooler, the strained relationship he has with his sister Charlie (Milly Shapiro) becomes a catalyst for him to face his demons in an already fractured family.
"Alex Wolff is on top form"
As debut features go, director Ari Aster demonstrates an exceptional understanding of the craft with Hereditary. The camerawork is meticulous, moving with unnatural ease that it lingers just long enough to make the viewer uncomfortable whilst not overstaying its welcome. Every frame of the film is densely packed with imagery that aids in heightening the tension and almost always has a payoff. Some of the most effective scares within Hereditary are lurking within the periphery of the screen and require that extra bit of attention to experience. It’s a challenge at times but it’s also a testament to the efficacy of the film and how it manages to engage the viewer to look even though every fibre of your being is fighting against it.
The film has a lot in common with other A24 distributed horrors such as The Witch or It Comes at Night, in that it takes a slow burn approach to its narrative that would leave some moviegoers with the impression of a boring film. They wouldn’t be wrong. Whereas most modern horror films are akin to a haunted house attraction, filled with buckets of blood and jump scares galore, Hereditary takes a more psychological approach. Without going into spoiler territory, the film is littered with genre tropes, but they function more as loving homages to the classics that inspired Aster.
Whilst Hereditary is undoubtedly scary, the marketing material that states it as ‘this generations Exorcist’ are a tad hyperbolic; the film is entirely its own beast. A deeply personal meditation on grief that delves into madness and leaves images burnt into the recesses of your mind. It’s not a film fuelled by a constant need to scare but the moments of lingering dread that are felt will haunt you long after its two-hour runtime.
Featured image: Twitter / @TotalFilm / A24