Hereditary Review

I’m spooked solid.

Horror movies are the worst. I think the ratio of good horror movies compared to the rest is probably 30/70, and most of that 30% isn’t horribly popular. This movie did pretty well, all things considered. It’s not attached to an existing franchise, it wasn’t released around Halloween, and it’s got a premise that’s not immediately clear from the trailer. Despite all this, it’s made its’ $10 million budget back seven times over (as of this writing). Pretty good for a movie like this. What’s even more important is the movie’s quality. To me, at least. And the movie’s great.

This movie is from first-time feature-length director Ari Aster, although if you didn’t know he had never directed a feature-length film before, you wouldn’t know by watching this movie. It’s a professionally done, anxiety-riddled spiral into insanity.

It’s very easy to just tell the audience what’s happening and ensure that they know what’s going on, but that’s not what this movie does. For about half the movie, I was trying to figure out what it was all about, and what the purpose of most of the things they were showing was. I ended up being completely wrong in most everything I thought, and the ending surprised me. For the last forty-five minutes, I felt like I was at the mercy of whatever scheme the movie could come up with, because it was clear that I wasn’t going to be able to predict it. I love that feeling. I love not knowing what’s going on. It’s an easy way to get me invested (in a good movie, at least), and it’s usually an indicator of intelligent screenwriting. Which, incidentally enough, this movie has a lot of.

A common pitfall for horror movies is that characters will often do incredibly stupid and irrational things for the sake of plot. This is usually because the writers are lazy and… I feel like I’ve talked about this point several times over the past few reviews I’ve done. Maybe it’s because there are a lot of lazy people in Hollywood. Not Ari Aster, though. The movie creeps along, upending every character’s established routine as the circumstances get increasingly dreadful. The characters at the end of the movie do things that characters at the beginning could never in a million years see themselves doing. This is something I like to call “good character development”, because these character changes are believably and gradually done. I can’t go into specifics about the changes they undergo or the circumstances that provoke these changes, so take my word for it.

I feel like a lot of people don’t notice cinematography unless it’s really good or awful. No one really considers it to be a factor if it’s mediocre or just passable. Could you possibly imagine where I’m going with this? That’s right, I’m gonna talk about the acting. Everyone does a great job, they all succeed in cementing an tense family dynamic that makes the movie feel like even more of a nightmare than it already does, but the star of the show is Toni Collette. Toni Collette is most likely gonna get a Best Actress nomination at this next Oscars. She stressed me out even more than the scares did. There’s a particular scene that I’m probably never gonna forget where she confronts her son and says a little too much. It’s a perfect scene. It’s darkly lit, not to the point where you can’t see anything, but to the point where a horrifying visual element goes almost unnoticed until the scene explodes. And boy, does it explode. And boy, is it petrifying. There were numerous points where my friend and I looked at each other in abject horror, while a couple moviegoers a few seats away would nearly scream expletives because they couldn’t believe what they were watching. I mean, surely what we’re looking at is the result of a mid-movie, popcorn-induced nap where our imaginations have decided to come up with the worst thing we could muster? Nah. Everything they show is really that gut-wrenching.

I feel like I have to clarify something: This movie is not viscerally disgusting in a way that makes you wish you had no eyeballs. However, it has a deeper effect than a great deal of those movies. It knows that the most effective way to scare someone is not to show someone’s intestines strewn about (I’m looking directly at you, Saw sequels), the most effective way to scare someone is to get in their head. Once you’re in there, you can do whatever horrible things you can think of, and it is guaranteed to leave a lasting impression. I’m gonna stay away from paint thinner for a while. Please don’t ask why. I might have flashbacks.

Ah, I completely forgot to mention the cinematography after pulling a classic but completely pointless/unnecessary bait-and-switch that isn’t made any better by me pointing out the fact that it’s pointless/unnecessary. Why’d I keep that part in? Eh, whatever. This movie looks excellent. I love me a good scene transition, and this movie’s got some that knocked my head off with a telephone pole. There’s a fascinating subject in filmmaking called “drawing attention”, where you manipulate elements of the frame to draw the audience’s eye to what’s important in a scene. Directing the audience’s attention can take place in the form of a focus pull, or maybe the act of someone standing still in a moving crowd. This movie is an expert at drawing your attention to the right things, and this is especially apparent when considering the transitions. They draw your attention to one object, and then the scene around it snaps to something completely different while the object retains its’ position. It’s so smooth. Speaking of smooth, the camerawork is smooth. Which is simultaneously a good thing and a terrible thing. On one hand, you can see all the scares clearly and it leaves nothing to be mistaken. On the other hand, you can see all the scares clearly and it leaves nothing to be mistaken. It only makes everything more unnerving.

Everything in this movie works towards one goal: to make you squirm. And I’d say it did a pretty great job. I’ve heard some people complain about the ending, and how it ruined the movie, but I don’t really see it. It fit within the universe they set up, and although it might have worked had they ended the movie early, we’d be left asking what this movie was even about. It answers the question of what’s terrorizing this family, and that’s kind of one of the major plot points. I don’t know. I was satisfied. You might not be. If you aren’t, don’t let that blind you from everything this movie did right.

8/10 (Great).

Up next: Who knows? All I know is that it’ll be late.

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