Any horror hyped as “the next [insert horror classic here]” is always bound to have a tough time convincing the masses. In fact, with other genres, many seem to accept hyperbole far more easily but horror (much like comedy) is far more scrutinised and through this scrutiny, some films falter, some flourish and some divide. In the case of Hereditary, it is once more a case of the latter. Like The VVitch, The Babadook, It Follows, It Comes At Night and Mother before it, Hereditary is a film that has enjoyed some eye catching reviews but which has split its mainstream audiences like the underbelly of a haddock but also, like all those other titles, it is a film that forcibly requests your attention and observation.
To this point I will say now that this review is not complete because Hereditary, like Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, is a film that can scarcely be defined by one viewing. MSTRMND once stated in analysis of Kubrick’s classic that, “The Shining is a film meant to be seen both forwards and backwards” and this kind of idea kept floating around my mind while watching Ari Aster’s feature film debut which reminded me an awful lot of The Shining in numerous ways. A combination of supernatural chiller, sinister tale of parentage and a look at the crumbling effects of the grieving process, this film packs a whole lot into every frame. Even with the frankly very familiar resolution (evoking recent features as far and wide as The Last Exorcism, The Ritual and Paranormal Activity 3 to name a few), which initially came as a slight disappointment but I cannot help but feel there is even more within that I missed.
From its opening scenes of loss and ambiguous emotions to a quarter way shock to a very full on final stretch, this is a feature that takes you through some dark places and displays some troubling scenes of soul shaking evil. Calling a film scary is a tough statement because it is a subjective statement but Hereditary burrows under the epidermis and follows you back home, leaving a lingering feeling of unease and discomfort. Certain scenes in this film are hand sweatingly haunting and Aster is the master conjurer, creating a constantly foreboding atmosphere. While Pawel Pogorzelski’s incredible cinematography brings you closer to the scenes by way of dollhouse camerawork, and is every bit as experimental as Colin Stetson’s slowly escalating score, which at times feels as though you are hearing noise from a neighbouring cinema screen/outdoors until you realize it is this film audibly building alongside the mounting onscreen anxiety.
Whether screaming blue murder or questioning her own sanity Toni Collette brilliantly rolls with the film’s demented machinations, while Gabriel Byrne is arguably the closest thing to a fixed point that this film gets, as Alex Wolff turns in a highly emotional and physical performance and Milly Shapiro is staggeringly memorable. To go further into the characters would arguably reveal too much but that being said, you do see where things are going but it is not until they arrive there that you realize you may have missed a lot in the process. The home, like the plot, comes to resemble a constantly shifting and treacherous puzzle and these characters are the pawns in this ghoulish game.
I struggle to rate Hereditary overall because it truly is a resolute experience, which no doubt has the ability to leave you feeling something different after each and every viewing. I will be watching it again and no doubt discovering more within it and maybe liking it even more than I already do, in fact as I write these words I cannot help but feel increasingly impressed by it, constantly recalling more within its architectural hell. For now, all I’ll say is that Aster’s film is disturbing, lasting and hard to put into words. Engrossingly evil.