Release: June 8, 2018
Director: Ari Aster
Writer: Ari Aster
Starring: Tony Collette as Annie Graham, Gabriel Byrne as Steve Graham, Alex Wolff as Peter Graham, Milly Shapiro as Charlie Graham, and Ann Down as Joan
Running Time: 127 minutes
Potential Spoilers Ahead
Annie Graham is a miniature sculptor living with her husband Steven and their two children, Peter and Charlie. After the death of her mother, Annie begins to believe she is seeing apparitions. After browbeating her daughter, Charlie, into attending a party with Peter, Charlie dies by decapitation in an auto accident. Distraught at the death of her daughter, Annie begins to become distant from Steven and Peter, even lashing out at the latter at one point. At a support group for bereaved people, Annie meets Joan who eventually teaches her about mediumship and summoning spirits. After Annie summons Charlie during an impromptu séance, supernatural forces start stalking Peter. Annie discovers that her mother, as well as her new friend Joan, were into esoteric rituals and had summoned a demon called Paimon who is seeking out a male host.
With a production budget of around $10 million, Hereditary is kind of on the expensive end of the supernatural horror genre. While one would think this would translate into a quality product, in terms of overall visual fidelity, I have seen far cheaper films that look just as good, if not better. The budget obviously did allow the filmmakers to splurge some in the talent department, casting two moderate to well-known leads in Collette and Byrne. The acting in Hereditary is good for the most part. There was one glaring negative though, and that was in Alex Wolff’s horrendous fake crying. Think Ben Stiller in the final scene of There’s Something About Mary, but with the irony removed. Touching on the visuals once again, I said that I’ve seen far cheaper films that boast better overall visual fidelity, and this is true. The film’s colour palette has a tendency to vacillate between being washed out, drab, and muddy to overly bright to the point of being nearly blinding. The visual effects, which is to say the few splashes of gore present in the film, are well rendered. If I had to guess, I would say they are entirely (or at least mostly) practical. The story is a fairly standard issue tale of demonic possession. We’re introduced to the victim. We see him get harassed and progressively worn down by his attacker, and then finally taken. It’s not going to win any awards for writing, but it makes for a mostly entertaining viewing experience. The filmmakers also wisely avoid the modern over reliance on jump scares, instead opting to sell the film’s horror through a progressively building sense of foreboding tension. There are no unexpected cats or suddenly appearing apparitions.
Hereditary is an entertaining if flawed and predictable movie. Issues with the colour palette and one of the lead actors’ inability to properly emote aside, the area where the film suffers the most is pacing. With a running time of 127 minutes, the film is bloated. It has a tendency to become sluggish and creep along at a lethargic pace. While the shots are all framed nicely, some of them linger for far too long. How long do we really need to see someone’s horrified face with mouth agape and nostrils running? Do we really need a long shot of someone staring at a burnt body out of frame? Yes, I know the thing we’re supposed to be looking at is that out of focus person skittering along the wall in the background, but how long do we really need to fixate on that? Slicing about 15 or 20 minutes off of the running time could have greatly improved this film.
Hereditary comes across as a horror film that wants to be taken seriously. It attempts to raise its brows high, but it can’t quite muster the energy to do so. It is entertaining, but only just so. It’s good for a once through, and could serve as decent filler on your Halloween viewing list.