Movie Review: "Hereditary" (2018)
What does the phrase "slow burn" mean to you? How about "tension building"? While we're at it, what do you think about "character development" and "family dynamics"? If any of these are too much for your brain/patience level/sensibility then do me a favor:
Don't go see Hereditary. Just don't.
However, if you understand that in order to truly feel the horror you have to give a damn about the characters and their relationships as well as allow your nerves to be slowly shredded on the way to one hell of a crescendo then do yourself a favor:
Get the fuck out of the house and go see it. Now. Right this evening.
Hereditary tells the story of the Graham family following the loss of their clan matriarch, grandmother Ellen Leigh. Annie Graham (Toni Collette, The Sixth Sense) is conflicted yet relieved following her mother's death. Her husband, Steve (Gabriel Byrne, The Usual Suspects) is supportive and even tender. Their two children, Charlie (the unique and striking Milly Shapiro) and Peter (Alex Wolff, My Friend Dahmer) have opposing reactions- Charlie is bereft (she was the "favorite"); Peter is indifferent. The cracks in Mom's armor and her psyche show almost immediately. Mental illness runs deep in this family. Dark secrets and sinister heritage run even deeper.
Toni Collette is (no surprise) all but superb in a role that seems written for her. From the first frame you can see she is clearly batty but not in a homicidal, dangerous way. She seems broken and fragile. The great Gabriel Byrne is a splendid balance to her. He's patient, but his cracks are starting to show as well. Alex Wolff vacillates between jumping at shadows and being the average "who gives a shit" teenager with serious skill. He's clearly been living in the shadow of the family curse, if you will, for his entire life, and it shows in every move and facial tic.
Then there's Charlie.
Charlie is dark and brooding. Charlie looks different, sounds different, behaves differently...she is the epitome of different. The first few scenes with her give you the sense that there is deep love and an almost inherent fear of her on the part of the whole family. She wastes little time showing you why in many small and shocking ways. As you find out more about her (and her relationship with her grandmother) your unease grows into creep territory. Just when you think you might have a handle on where Hereditary is going it takes a hard left in a way that will literally make you gasp. I know everyone in that theater damn sure did.
The beauty is in the simplicity of the telling of the tale: it's a movie that understands the power of being a drama first and a horror film second. The horror is never neglected; it's like that big-ass pot of water you have to get to a boil first before you can put the spaghetti noodles in. The bubbles take a bit to show. Once they show they're stationary, then they dance just a bit. You take your eyes off of it for a moment and the number of bubbles have doubled, then tripled. It's a slow process that picks up steam like an old diesel Mercedes, stately and elegant with a cubic fuck-ton of power under the hood.
The third act, while being a tad predictable, is freakishly intense. When things go south they go south rapidly in the vein of Rosemary's Baby or The Excorcist. On that note, those are the two movies that it has been most compared to for a very good reason- it's old school.
If you've ever read Rosemary's Baby by the legendary Ira Levin you know what I mean. The language is simple and to the point. The imagery is damn strong. It's trying to scare you, and it does not apologize. In order to scare you, though, it lets you get cozy with the people and the places. That's where fear becomes real.
Real fear is what Hereditary is selling. This isn't Freddy or Jason breaking the bounds of reality. This isn't a horde of zombies beating at the door or an alien from another world. This is horror ground in family dynamics and laced with the all too real theme of hereditary mental illness. Once the supernatural element comes into play it is all too believable.
I'd be remiss if I didn't add how gorgeously straight forward the cinematography is, in particular with the use of natural lighting (and lack thereof), time passage, and musical cues. There are inserted tics that are so subtle at times that you don't realize you're picking up on them.
Do you want to know what the best way for me to summarize is? Here goes:
I am a fully desensitized sicko, raised in the halls of horror who worships at the altar of gore and shock. Maybe the best thing about horror, for me, is that it's nearly impossible to get a reaction out of the guy who's seen and read it all. With that being said, Hereditary gave me a good handful of delicious chills and raised the hair on my arms. I had moments of being genuinely freaked the fuck out. That's rare nowadays for the average horror fan.
It's damn near unheard of for me.