****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****
My Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars Popcorn Curve Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
My Recommendation: SKIP IT/SEE IT. A decent but not great horror movie that boasts two strong performances. Worth seeing for free with MoviePass or on Netflix/cable if you have a chance but not worth paying full price at the theatre.
Hereditary, written and directed by Ari Aster, is the story of the Graham family who experience strange happenings in the wake of their reclusive grandmother's death. The film stars Toni Colette with supporting turns from Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff and Millie Shapiro.
Horror films are not usually my thing but the ones I find to be the best and the scariest, The Shining, The Exorcist and Rosemary's Baby all deal with existential threats from the spiritual/supernatural realm. Hereditary falls into the same type of horror film as those three classics, but while it is entertaining and has many quality elements, it fails to coalesce into a cinematic whole that lives up to the high standards of the unholy trinity of films mentioned above.
In execution, Hereditary falls short of being what I consider truly noteworthy cinema, but with that said, the subtext of the film is absolutely mesmerizing and for that reason alone I was glad I used my MoviePass to go see it. Hereditary, intentionally or unintentionally, is a metaphor for Trump's America (the lead character even says "I am the only one who can fix this") and an ominous warning for what lies ahead for us all…but more on that at another time.
Beyond the fascinating themes bubbling just under the surface of Hereditary, the film also boasts two exceptional horror film performances from Toni Colette and Alex Wolff.
Colette is stunning as Annie, the mother of the cursed Graham family. Watching her simultaneously be wrapped too tight yet also wildly unraveling is a disturbing pleasure. Colette's Annie is perpetually containing a deep and pulsating wound that at times manifests so powerfully it jumps out of her mouth and cruelly strikes the ones she loves. Colette's ability to vividly portray Annie's spiral downward and descent into shadow is a testament to her deft skill and enormous talent.
Alex Wolff also gives a powerful performance as the families teenage son Peter. There is a sequence, which is pivotal to the film, where the camera stays in close up on Wolff's face without cutting away for a very extended period of time. Wolff absolutely crushes this very difficult sequence, never once hitting the slightest of false notes. Director Avi Aster obviously knew the gem he had in Wolff, for he effectively uses him in numerous extended dramatic close ups and Wolff is seamless every time. Wolff is an impressive actor and his future is bright indeed.
Gabriel Byrne is one of my favorite actors and he plays Steve, the Graham family father. Years ago I had a transcendent experience sitting in the front row for Byrne's performance on Broadway in Eugene O'Neill's Moon for the Misbegotten. The staging of the play left Byrne about four feet from me for almost the entire second half of the production, and as he sat there weeping and wailing and emotionally contorting himself in all sorts of ungodly O'Neill-ian ways, I felt as if he was bringing to life my own tortured Irish sub-conscious. Byrne is an under appreciated actor and sadly, in Hereditary, Byrne is criminally underused, and for the life of me I cannot figure out why, as the film suffers because of it.
Milly Shapiro plays the Graham's odd daughter Charlie. There is something wrong with Charlie, she may be autistic, or mildly retarded or something along those lines. Shapiro does well to embody Charlie's discomfort with being in the world in the state she is in. Shapiro is also pretty fearless as she let's the filmmakers make her look as distorted and odd as possible, which benefits the film a great deal but couldn't have been easy.
Director Ari Aster and cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski do solid work in using the camera to heighten tension and fear. Pogorzelski's use of shadow is particularly effective in raising the creepy factor throughout the film, and he also pulls off some unconventional camera maneuvers that work surprisingly well.
Pogorzelski's cinematography combined with Colin Stetson's music and the film's sound effectively set a very creepy mood and tone to the film. Stetson's music is particularly unsettling as just like the film's foreboding sub-text, it dramatically haunts from just below the viewers conscious attention.
Ari Aster is a much more polished director than he is a writer. I felt Aster, much like his lead character Annie, was unable to keep control of the film for the duration. As the story expands and becomes more unwieldy, Aster loses his grip on it and the film loses much of its power. But to Aster's credit, even though the ending feels a bit out of place in the context of the rest of the film, I did find it well conceived and executed.
As for the sub-textual themes that I found so engrossing and insightful for our time and for what lies ahead...I will write a separate piece about that this coming week because it would be much too difficult to get into it here without giving some spoilers away.
In conclusion, Hereditary is a decent horror movie but it falls well short of being a great film. While I was glad to see it, I was even happier that thanks to the joys of MoviePass, I didn't technically pay full price to see it. If you like horror films in general, definitely see Hereditary in the theatre, as you will most likely love it. If you are lukewarm on horror films (and don't have MoviePass), then you can wait to see it on cable of Netflix and not be any worse for wear.