Ari Aster’s directorial debut is unsettling, deeply disturbing, and a delight for horror junkies
Opined by Bryan Ray of @DRMovieNews
For the fan, there has been a renaissance of modern horror over the past five years, and Hereditary does more than just continue the trend. While most of the hit horror films in the past couple of years have been critiqued as being just as fun as they are scary, Aster follows the path of The VVitch and takes the material into dark, tragic territory.
RUN-DOWN: The film follows a, somewhat, normal family after experiencing the death of Annie (Toni Colette)’s mother, whom she wasn’t close to at the time of her death, nor was the entire family: Peter (Alex Wolff), Charlie (Milly Shapiro), and Steve (Gabriel Byrne). As soon, as they arrive home from the funeral, strange things start to happen around the house. This leads to an absolutely unforgettable and horrific end to the first act, which drives the rest of the film.
That is all I will say in terms of plot, because I want you to go in knowing as little as possible.
REVIEW: Let’s talk about Ari Aster. This man is a natural born filmmaker, through-and-through. For a debut motion picture, his efforts are nothing short of masterful and contain infinite promise for a bright future. Aster has very tight grip on his audience, building the tension through heart-wrenching wide shots and terrifying you through the reactions of the characters (at least until the third act, but we will get to that later).
Aster brings out star-turning performances from Wolff and Shapiro. In fact, Alex Wolff may have stole the show for me in this film. His ability to produce raw, authentic emotion is absolutely astounding. If it weren’t for his beautifully innocent and heartbreaking performance, many scenes wouldn’t work considering how much of the film lies on his shoulders. He pulls it off exceptionally well.
Milly Shapiro, while given a lot less to do than her co-stars, she has a substantially creepy and unsettling presence throughout the film. Without giving anything away, she is crucial in many of the horror-driven sequences.
Gabriel Byrne gives a wonderfully understated performance as Steve, adding a much-needed weight to many of the film’s heavier scenes.
Toni Colette gives the performance of a lifetime, bringing the character of Annie to life in a way that only she could do. Aster brings out the best we have ever seen from her. The script demands a lot from her as an actress, making her change emotion, facial expressions, and her character on a dime. It’s truly impressive work and I can see her scoring an Oscar nomination come next February. Yes, it is that good.
While there is expertise in the way he takes his time building up the tension and driving the story in the first two acts, there are some scenes, here-and-there, that do drag a bit, especially when the character of Joan arrives. While she is crucial to the story, some of those sequences could’ve been trimmed in the editing room.
Finally, let’s discuss the third act. The film slow-burns its way through the first hour and 45 minutes of pure tension and drama. Then, in a snap from day-to-night (literally), the film becomes a fast-paced “spookhouse” film for the final twenty minutes.
Some may not buy into the jarring change, but, personally, I absolutely loved it. Aster and his cinematographer, Pawel Pogorzelsk, brilliantly play with lighting and shadow, creating some of the most unsettling horror imagery since The Conjuring in 2013. Brutal, terrifying, and mentally upsetting, the film concludes with a sequence, heightened by a bold score by Colin Stetson and horrific practical effects, that is sure to delight horror junkies and leave the rest of the audience thinking: “WTF!”
REFLECTION: Hereditary absolutely blew me away; not only as a tragic family drama, but as a truly unsettling, disturbing tale of emotional terror. The film is wonderfully acted by the entire cast (Colette is Oscar worthy). Calling all horror junkies! See it!
DR Diagnosis: 90%
(NOTE: Images courtesy of A24 Films)