“Hereditary” was written and directed by Ari Aster and stars Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro and Gabriel Byrne. The film is about a family that is grieving following the passing of their grandmother, and how secrets revealed about her past put the lives, and sanity, of the whole family in danger.
To put it simply, “Hereditary” may be the most excited I have been, or will be, for a non-sequel movie this year. The trailer is stunning and terrifying, A24 horror movies have one of the strongest track records out there and the buzz on this film was nothing short of glowing. So, I came in with extremely high expectations, and looked to be completely blown away by Aster’s vision.
Before getting into all the components that make “Hereditary” such a great horror film, I have to first praise Aster, who masterfully directs this movie in every facet. This is Aster’s feature-film debut, and he already feels like a veteran with his careful, intentional use of detail and character-building to both make the plot compelling, while also scaring the hell out of me. There are so many little things that all come together to create tension, and Aster nails the tone, the pace and the horror, while also making sure to build strong characters in the process.
The performances are outstanding across the board, but Collette still finds a way to be the standout. As Annie, Collette manages to be heartfelt, compelling, terrifying and compassionate all at once, and her character is truly one of the most well-rounded ones I have seen in a horror movie in recent memory. Collette plays the character exceptionally, and truly is a show-stealer in various scenes.
Wolff really proves himself to be a potential star with his terrific performance here. As Peter, Wolff portrays fear better than anyone else in this film, and consistently feels the most relatable and real of the entire cast. On the other end, Shapiro does a great job at playing a young girl who is clearly a little off, but always keeps the performance grounded, which kept the audience guessing.
Many horror movies today rely on the jump scare to relieve the tension and get a big reaction out of its audience. “Hereditary,” on the other hand, builds up all of the tension, continues to build it, builds it even more, and then never lets you breathe with that payoff. The final hour of this film is some of the most uneasy sixty minutes I have felt in recent memory, as Aster truly understands what is legitimately scary, and he uses the unknown and the story to keep your heart racing for insanely long stretches of time.
What is so spectacular about “Hereditary” is how much it works as a film first, even before it tries to give you nightmares. The characters, the storyline, the relationships between characters, all of these things are incredibly well-developed on their own, and then the movie also decides to be scary as hell. This movie works as a family drama about grief with excellent dialogue and strong performances, and then manages to work insanely well at creating massive tension and true, relentless horror.
As I’ve said already, this is a film that works on nearly every front, as Aster articulately crafted this gem of a movie, and he did it by being ridiculously ambitious in the process. “Hereditary” doesn’t hold back any punches by the time the final credits appear, and it is one of those movies that leaves you thinking about it long after viewing. On the bright side, at least for these last 18-ish hours since seeing the movie, this movie has only gotten better the more the pieces all come together. This is an outrageously smart horror film that scared the piss out of me in the process, and it is one that feels like it will only improve on repeat watches.
The score by Colin Stetson truly sets the tension even higher, as does the lack of sound that is expertly used by Aster in quite a few scenes. On a visual level, Pawel Pogorzelski does a stunning job with some gorgeous tracking shots and a very smart use of focus and lighting.
If there is a slight flaw to be had with “Hereditary,” it comes with the opening act. Yes, the pacing in this movie is slow, and it builds into something masterful, but the opening hour is still quite dry to sit through. There is a pivotal moment in the middle that shifts the film in gear, but until then, I found myself waiting for the excitement to happen, even when the dramatic elements were working so well.
Not a slight on the movie, but more on the trailer, as there are a few moments that I wish hadn’t been spoiled. Yes, the trailer was a big reason I was so excited, and yes, the movie still held back plenty of surprises, but there are some major moments utilized to add shock value to the trailer that I saw coming in this movie, and it caused them to have a slightly lesser impact.
“Hereditary” is a masterpiece horror film, but even more than that, it is an absolutely outstanding film at its core. The performances are some of the best all year, the drama hits hard, the emotional stakes are consistently prevalent, and the horror left me partially hiding in my shirt for over half the movie. This is a must-see horror movie, one that needs to be appreciated for pulling off the true meaning of fear while creating an equally compelling story to keep it working. “Hereditary” has plenty of tricks up its sleeve, and it is one of those movies that I won’t get out of my mind for a very long time, and I hope that is the case.