a review by the Crow.
WARNING: This section contains MINOR spoilers.
Hereditary is a 2018 horror movie from A24 — a studio I’ve become greatly enamoured of since The Corvid Review opened its doors. Enemy and Under the Skin (due to appear here at some point) were the first A24 movies I watched, but it wasn’t until I watched the trio of The Lobster (also due to appear), The VVitch, and Green Room in close succession in 2016 that I became aware of the studio and its work.
I’ve come to regard any movie that passes through A24s doors as touched by a kind of magic. Of course, there are movies which miss the mark in its ranks, but on the whole, A24 has built up quite the body of good work. And Hereditary is no exception. Leading up to the movie’s release, I was put in mind of the talk around town surrounding The Babadook — a movie I thought was distinctly subpar (and seem to have gone easy on, in hindsight).
The first official trailer also mentions that Hereditary shares a producer with Split, but I cannot put my finger on who or which entity that might be. And on that note, I must mention: even the “promo” for the movie is excellent, as is the “Charlie” trailer. The marketing team deserves a round of applause for their work.
The story revolves around Annie Graham (Toni Collette) and her family. Annie’s domineering — and secretive — mother Ellen (actress unnamed, as far as I can tell) has recently passed away, and following her departure, the Graham family goes down a path that can be only described as one of strangeness. Things go bump in the night, apparitions appear in the corners of our character’s vision, Ellen’s grave is desecrated, and there’s something going on with Charlie (Milly Shapiro).
And this is where the movie shines. Hereditary keeps one guessing as to what (or who) the “horror” of the movie is centred around. We know it’s a horror movie walking in, and expect to see what it is we’re supposed to dread relatively early into its story, so that we can dread it when the time comes. But Hereditary holds its cards close to its chest, leaving us to wonder what it is that we’re supposed to fear.
The movie features a good number of false starts and red herrings — and is all the better for it. With the traumatic backdrop of Annie’s side of the family looming in the background — a history of mental illness due to which the family has suffered tragedy time and again — the movie even manages to make us question if what Annie (our primary window into this world) is seeing might even be real.
Enter Charlie: Annie’s oddball 13-year old daughter. Regardless of what Annie is experiencing, we are led to believe that she is the focal point of the movie’s story (and for those who watched the “Promo” and the “Charlie trailer”, the marketing materials would support this reading of the first act). But of course the movie isn’t going to make things so simple.
In time, a supernatural angle is introduced to the story, and this is where the movie begins to fall apart — or would have, if this were your run-of-the-mill production. Hereditary manages to keep the audience’s interest throughout the supernatural happenings until the very end, where the movie does fall apart (to me, from a “that was it?” perspective). And the movie achieves this through two major showcases of skill.
One: is the direction. I don’t mean something as simple as shot selection (which many people view directing to be, which it isn’t), but shot selection is a part of it. The composition of Hereditary is excellent: from what is framed to what is in the picture (but goes unmentioned) to the overall “feel” of the movie.
The second, and the more significant, I believe, is: the performance. All the actors in Hereditary do a fine job of their roles, but Toni Collette stands head-and-shoulders above every performance I’ve seen this year (so far). I haven’t watched much of her prior to her appearance in Hereditary, and it’s all for the better. She has an absolute knockout of a performance, here. She ties together the entire movie. No matter how ridiculous or drab the movie might become at times, she grounds it all down to reality with one great scene after another. She is called upon to emote, to engage in “physical acting”, to play the part of a woman who is slowly but surely losing her mind (or is she?). And she handles it all with a grace I haven’t seen before. This is the sort of performance The Babadook boasted, too. And I prefer Hereditary‘s (fun fact: Toni Collette is Australian, as is Essie Davis).
Hereditary twists what we know about horror and uses it to great effect. We all know terror is the superior form of storytelling (a concept I’ve used to separate the cream of horror movies from the crop before, such as in the case of The Blackcoat’s Daughter and Possession), and Hereditary is a masterclass in the form. And yet, it employs horror to great effect as and where necessary.
It’s a shame that we’ve already compiled our year’s Top 10 Horror Movies list on The Corvid Review; since by definition, Hereditary counts as an objectively good horror movie, and I do think it’s made a solid case for my personal Top 5 already. The technical skill it displays — starting from the screenplay and leading all the way to the final cut — is stellar. And when one considers that this is director Ari Aster’s first feature-length movie, I have little left to say other than I wish him all the best going forward. And I wish him the best because I want him to have a long and storied career by the time he’s done. Midsommar (his second movie) is already on my list of movies that I “must watch” in 2019. Recent years have been good in terms of first-time directors; especially so in the case of horror movies, with Jordan Peele (Get Out) standing tall as another — and quite surprising — example.
However now, we must address the ending: the part where the movie loses me.
I feel the ending is a bit silly, to be honest. It isn’t garbage, but it is a little too much of a departure from the excellence we’ve seen so far. There is only really one scene in particular that stands out to me as “bad”, and in any other movie, this would have been an adequate ending — but in Hereditary, it felt a little too out-of-place. Again: it’s not bad, but it throws water in the face of the masterpiece leading up to it.
I suppose, however, that the movie needed to end, so I can’t fault it too much. And I really can’t think of any other way the movie could have ended, given the time it had left to deliver an ending.
Hereditary is essential watching for fans of horror movies, and a highly recommended watch overall from both of us at The Corvid Review.
— Crow out.
THE CROW: 6/10
THE AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE: 8.5/10
Here’s the official poster: