Horror films rarely resonate with critics. Yet the early buzz for Hereditary thus far has been overwhelmingly positive, with many billing it as the scariest film of the year. Does Hereditary live up to the hype or is this just a film with a fantastic marketing machine?
This review will be as spoiler free as possible. But believe me – if you do decide to watch Hereditary, try and go in as cold as possible. You’ll get far more out of it.
Hereditary is the first feature film from director Ari Aster, who also wrote the screenplay. It’s worth keeping this in mind, because although I do have some criticisms for his feature length debut, I do think he is someone who has a bright future ahead of him.
So what type of horror film is Hereditary?
Ari Aster has clearly been inspired by the slow burn horror films of the late 60s early 70s. Imagine if you took The Exorcist, Wicker Man and Rosemary’s Baby and stuck them all in a blender – you’d probably end up with something similar.
This is by no means a bad thing, especially for those of us who prefer genuine suspense over cheap jump scares or torture porn. Hereditary instead takes its time to flesh out its characters.
You would be forgiven early on for thinking that you might have found yourself watching a suspenseful drama instead of a horror film.
Could Hereditary win any Oscars?
Whilst we’ve got quite a wait before we get to Oscars season, I would be very surprised if it didn’t at least receive a nomination for best actress. Toni Collette gives what is arguably the strongest performance of her career, which, given some of her past work, is saying something.
Truth be told, the acting across the board is mostly solid. Though Toni Collette is the only performance I would consider Oscar-worthy.
So when does the horror kick in?
It’s at least a good hour before the horror elements begin to appear more prominently. The film’s last forty minutes are the cinematic equivalent to driving a car at 80 kms an hour and then slamming the accelerator all the way down. Hereditary suddenly jumps into full on horror mode. The shift in tone is one of the sharpest ones we’ve seen in a very long time.
I will give Ari Aster some credit for trying to minimalise the use of jump scares and find other ways to freak out his audience. Regrettably, the shift in tone caused some of the horror to feel slightly out of place.
For me, this broke the suspension of disbelief. Rather than scaring the crap out of me, Hereditary turned into a comedy. I wasn’t alone either – a large chunk of the audience had a similar response.
It might be that modern audiences are too jaded for this type of horror, or it could be just that the horror needed to be eased into the film in a more fluid way. Whatever the case, the end result is a horror movie that is very uneven.
Final thoughts on Hereditary
My thoughts on Hereditary are conflicted. In some places this is an incredibly well made film with solid performances. But the end result still feels too much like a misfire.
In any case, Hereditary is a film I highly recommend checking out. That might sound like an odd remark after my critiques, but any movie that breaks from cookie cutter conventions deserves to be supported.
Hereditary may not hit all the marks but it is a unique movie and is all the better for it.
We appreciate unique horror films. Have a read of this article on why we need more practical effects in horror movies.