'Hereditary' Review: A Different Kind of Horrifying
I would like to start off this review with a little disclaimer. I am going to say a lot of things about this movie, many positive and many negative, but I want to be perfectly clear; I did not have a good time in this film. While Hereditary may succeed as a piece of art, a metaphor for mental illness or a deep dive into the negative aspects of family dynamics, it does not succeed as a piece of entertainment or, in many ways, a horror film. Those looking for a fun scary movie to see with friends, filled with jump scares and ghosts to scream at, will likely be disappointed.
Hereditary is not like any horror film I have seen in recent memory. The closest comparison I can conjure up is The Babadook, which shed a lot of the conventional trappings of a this type of movie to tell a compelling story about depression and its effects on the family unit. In a similar, but much more horrific way, Hereditary tells the story of Annie Graham (Toni Collette), a mother and miniature painter, as she deals with the loss of her own mother, Ellen, a recluse whom she did not have a close relationship with. This loss affects Annie's children differently, from her daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro), whom Annie says was Ellen's favorite, to her son Peter (Alex Wolff), a largely indifferent stoner. It quickly becomes clear that Ellen was involved in something more sinister than anyone in her family was aware of, and after another tragedy rocks the family, we watch the household crumble from within.
Following this second tragedy is the most grueling section of the movie by far. What follows is not particularly scary or gory in the traditional sense, but is difficult to watch simply because of the sheer misery that unfolds. There are several extended shots of members of the Graham family crying, uncomfortable support group sessions, even more uncomfortable fights between members of the family where horrible confessions are made, and further scenes of the Grahams struggling under the weight of guilt, either together of apart. Its unpleasant to watch, and brutally unfiltered. People don't like to be confronted by the possibility that a family could implode so horribly, that real people could say these things to each other, even in their darkest moments. Seeing these characters tear themselves apart, and rip apart those close to them, is truly feel-bad movie-making.
Despite how disturbed I was by all of this, the actors all deserve praise for their performances. Toni Collette in particular is a highlight, in part because of how raw her emotional outbursts are throughout the film. Collette masterfully portrays what would surely happen to someone forced to experience so much loss, and whether it be anger, panic, despair, or even the occasional touch of joy, Collette depicts Annie's feelings convincingly and powerfully. Peter's transformation throughout this melancholy journey is also particularly harrowing, and Alex Wolff really makes you empathize with the character. Peter suffers perhaps the greatest emotional toll of Hereditary, and Alex Wolff brings a certain childlike fear to the role that distinguishes it from the typical unlikable teenage characters that populate horror movies. Gabriel Byrne also does an excellent job as Annie's husband, a man desperately doing all he can to keep the family together and maintain a sense of normalcy in the face of utter horror.
Oh yeah, did I mention there are also some supernatural elements to this movie? By the time the ghosts and other occult elements of this film appear in earnest, you may have forgotten you were in a horror movie in the first place. It is also truly a feat that by the time this side of the film shows itself, it actually comes as a bit of a relief. The last portion of the movie finally delivers on the promise made by the trailers, providing some creepy images, shocking reveals, and, unfortunately, a ton of spooky exposition where we find out exactly what is going on. It all sort of feels out of place, a horror movie ending slapped onto a movie about mourning. Thrilling but strange.
Ultimately, I have a hard time recommending Hereditary. While the cinematography, acting and mood-setting are technically brilliant, the picture that the filmmakers have decided to paint is so utterly hopeless that I have no interest in viewing it again. If you thought The Babadook was too happy, this movie might be for you, but for those not looking to feel terrible when they go to the movies, I recommend looking elsewhere.