It’s usually late August or early awards season for a film this convoluted to appear in the wild.
After the funeral of her mother, Annie (Toni Collette) wrestles with a lack of feelings over the death; her husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) appears equally indifferent. Her older son Peter (Alex Wolff) has become distant while her younger daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) mourns the loss of her grandmother vocally. Annie throws herself into her work as a distraction after she begins noticing odd things; her husband is worried enough about her state of mind to hide the fact her mother’s grave was desecrated only a week after the burial. When a second tragedy befalls the family soon after, Annie meets a woman named Joan (Ann Dowd) who relates, having suffered a similar loss… and she offers Annie an unusual and fantastic way to get over her grief.
There have been a lot of claims surrounding this film from distributor A24, such as boasting it may be “too scary” and watching it gives some viewers the equivalent of a two-hour workout on their hearts. This kind of marketing is almost a throwback to Hollywood yesteryear, like advertising nurses standing by in theaters in the event someone faints during the presentation, never mind being called “the scariest movie of the year.” The real question is, is this a drama with horrific elements that can hold the attention of a fickle audience, or a smoke screen for something that really doesn’t work to begin with?
There is a high probability this film was mismarketed from the start, with explanations of it being a family drama if you remove all the horror elements. Writer and director Ari Aster reportedly won’t discuss the very personal events from his own life he infused into Hereditary, but mixing it in with horror and the occult may have been a mistake to being with. With an overlong middle that meanders under the guise of a slow burn thriller that ends in a convoluted mishmash of horror tropes, the ending feels tacked on as a way to spin the drama in light of all the creepy bits meant to hold your attention. With supernatural elements failing to pay off as window-dressing for a potentially serious broken-family drama, an audience giggling throughout the film’s ending is the least of Hereditary’s problems.
To best avoid spoilers, it’s easier to compare this with another A24 release: The Witch. That film was also about a broken family, a fact that rested solely on the shoulders of the family’s father; his sins brought about the godlessness that not only got them exiled but ended up destroying them utterly. The story hinged on the idea that their fate was deserved, and learning the hows and whys made it work, even when the last character makes their final choice to give in or to go on.
In contrast, events in Hereditary have an underlying cause as well, but no one in the family seems particularly worth saving. From the very beginning of the film, these people sharing a home already felt they were coasting along to begin with without any sense of them ever being a family. How can an audience relate to and feel anything for them without any evidence of them being a loving family, something they could actually lose? A few revelations accurately predict their doom from the opening scenes, fueling futility as an eventuality rather than evoke any feelings of actual dread.
There is one scene that rings true, with family members avoiding one another at dinner when Toni Collette’s character finally says exactly what’s on her mind, consequences be damned. The scene feels very real, to the point where everything before it and after it feels subdued, and it’s criminal to have a cast this good and waste it. Make no mistake: this isn’t a horror film for people who actually watch and enjoy horror films — anyone saying otherwise is probably marketing it.
Hereditary is rated R for horror violence, disturbing images, language, drug use, and brief graphic nudity which are the really disturbing images.
Zero skull recommendation out of four
How you’ll probably feel after watching Hereditary: