Misses Horror Perfection By A Narrow Margin
It is very difficult to come up with new ways to scare people in movies. It is a common struggle of modern horror movies. They often struggle because they rely too much on traditional jump scares that people can obviously see coming. Eventually, these become redundant and people aren't as affected by jump scares. It has been a while since a film has truly disturbed people. Hereditary is a film that is deeply disturbing throughout the film, however, this feeling of dread and misery may not resonate as much once the film is over due to the film's poor ending.
The film is centered on a family that has a very troubled history. The family has a history of suicides, depression, and traumatic experiences. After their grandmother dies, the mother (Toni Collette) struggles to deal with her grief as she had a troubled relationship with her mother. Her kids, played by Alex Wolff and Milly Shapiro, also deal with her death in different ways. After another traumatic event happens, Collette and her family begin to spiral in a descent towards madness. It seems that their grandmother had some sinister secrets that she passed down to her family and Collette struggles to find the answers to what strange entity they may have inherited.
The performances in this movie are some of the best that I've seen so far this year. A lot of the creepiness in this movie is due to the performances. The camera will often focus on a characters face or a group of characters for a long time in order for the tension to sink in. If the acting is bad, then the whole thing collapses, but luckily everyone is fantastic. Collette is easily a contender for an oscar nomination. She brings so much to this character and sometimes it is hard to tell whether she is being real or whether it is something made up in her head. Her emotions and tones are ones that can be seen in a real person when in certain situations. The way she deals with grief and the challenges of being a mother is so good and can be relatable at certain points.
Wolff is also great in this movie. He is very reserved in this movie, but he delivers emotion when he needs to. There is a lot of sympathy that he draws due to his character being stuck in certain situations. Shapiro is really creepy as the little girl who behaves very mysteriously. She has certain ticks that make her very disturbing and it is unclear what is happening with her character.
Gabriel Byrne plays the father of the family and he's really good. He is pretty much the observer of the events. He watches his family spiral out of control and he reacts the way that the audience reacts. He doesn't know how to respond to the way that his wife his acting, even though he is trying his best. Ann Dowd is also good as a friend of the mother's. She seems comforting and inviting, but you can't shake the feeling that there is something off about her.
This is Ari Aster's first feature film debut and he comes out swinging. This is one of the most effective horror movies I've ever seen. He does such an effective job at building up tension. He doesn't cut away from scenes quickly. He lets the scene linger so that the audience can truly feel the dread and suspense that is being felt. He will leave the camera on an actor's face so that you can feel the emotion. He plays around with lighting a lot. He puts things in the background that you can only faintly see in order to create an intense, creepy atmosphere. You can't make out exactly what it is so that you're imagination will scare you even more. He will also show a character looking at something and then pan over to what it is, allowing the suspension to build up for what it might be.
He also doesn't rely on jump scares which is very refreshing. There are a couple but they are done very well. They happen at the time when you would least expect it. Aster also does a lot of things with the imagery of the dollhouse. He often zooms into it and uses scenes within the dollhouse to create images in the film. It was a unique trick.
The film is paced well and I was never bored because I was constantly in suspense. However, the first half of this film is much stronger than the second. The first half deals with mental illness and looks at the effects of grief and the weight it can have on a family. There is a mysterious thing effecting this family and the film doesn't reveal what it is which allows you to think about what it could be. There is a point in the film where it jumps into the supernatural and that is where it started to lose me. The first half was very grounded in reality so it was very psychological and felt like it could actually happen. Once the supernatural came in, I stopped believing the movie and was affected less. It's still very well done. I just knew that it wasn't realistic which meant that it scared me less. The ending of this film is also not good. The final couple minutes of the film seem to come completely out of nowhere and did not fit the rest of the movie. I honestly think I found it more funny than I did scary. Luckily, the rest of the film is so strong that this ending didn't ruin my enjoyment of the film.
Colin Stetson does the music for this film and it is definitely a new horror classic. He experiments with a lot of different sounds that create an ominous, tense atmosphere that brings you into the film even more. The score often builds up, adding even more sounds to create a sense of uncertainty. It really adds to the tone of dread and misery throughout.
Hereditary is an intense, emotional, and suspenseful horror film. The film does an incredible job at building tension throughout and not releasing you until the end. However, the first half is much stronger than the second half. There are certain plot points that I'm not happy the movie went with and the ending is extremely underwhelming. Still, Aster has done something so remarkable and unique with this movie that these plot points did not destroy the rest of the movie for me. I think that others will not like the ending either but please do not let it kill your enjoyment of the film because it is extremely well done.