Movie Review: “Hereditary”
After her mother passes away, Annie (Toni Collette) feels little to no grief. She loved her mother, but they had grown distant over the years. Her mother did not have a very pleasant life, so maybe now she is at peace. Annie’s husband and oldest child, Peter (Alex Wolff), were never close with Annie’s mother so they have little remorse. However, Annie’s daughter does not have the lack of grief shared by the rest of the family. Charlie (Milly Shapiro) was very close with her grandmother and is deeply saddened by the family’s loss.
In trying to cope with her loss, Annie attends a support group for grieving the loss of a loved one. One of the other members tells Annie of a do-it-yourself seance that will allow Annie to communicate with her dead family member. Annie gives it a shot, and it works, but it unleashes something dangerous upon the household. She must now find a way to rid the house of this evil before someone gets hurt but, while the evil is rising, Annie’s apparent sanity is dwindling.
The Pros & Cons
The Lore (-3pts)
The Climax (-6pts)
Pro: Annie (+5pts)
This movie invests a lot of time into the development of this character. When we first meet Annie, we assume she is dealing with a lot with the death of her mother. We also assume she is a responsible, good, innocent mother. While she is certainly not evil or an intentionally bad mother, she does have a dark history and a complicated relationship with both of her children. This was an extremely complex character and it was definitely interesting to learn more about her, but it was the actress that made this character so compelling.
At times we think she is totally sane but, at others, we think she has lost her mind. Toni Collette dances all over the line between sanity and insanity, and she does so in a very smooth, seemingly effortless way. She brings an intensity and unpredictability to the character, but is able to portray the character’s very complex feelings towards her children. Annie is a very loving mother, but she has her issues that her children witness first hand. There is a complexity and a darkness to this character, which was captivating to see Toni Collette bring to the screen.
Con: Boring (-10pts)
The biggest issue with Hereditary was its genre. This was marketed and advertised as a horror film but was hardly a horror. It is a character-driven drama with a bunch of horror elements thrown in at the end. However, even when the horror elements are taking place, nothing really happens. It feels like things almost happen a lot during this movie, but nothing ever does.
If you go into this movie expecting a horror, you will be bored out of your mind. The horror moments are very few and far between until the film’s climax. If you go into this movie expecting a character drama, you will find it compelling but the climax of the movie will be a let down. The movie is a character drama but switches to to a horror for the finish. It feels random and meaningless and will end up being unsatisfying to audiences expecting horror or a character drama.
Pro: Charlie (+3pts)
Milly Shapiro as Charlie was absolutely captivating whenever she was on-screen. From the strange sound she made with her tongue, to the blank emotionless stare she always had, audiences will have a sense of something supernatural about this child. Then we see her cut the head off of a dead bird using a pair of scissors and it creates the feeling that this character is unpredictable, and potentially dangerous. This movie was not good, but this character will peak the audience’s interest when she is on-screen. Unfortunately, we do not see her very much.
In some respect, this story is all about Charlie. However, at the same time, the movie does not spend much time focusing on her. Charlie was the unique gem of this film, but the filmmakers spent all the focus on Annie and Peter. Those characters were compelling, but Charlie was an enigma. Even when horror was not happening, Charlie gave the movie a tone of something unnatural. My only complaint is that the filmmakers did not take advantage of this. Charlie should have been the star of this movie, but the filmmakers gave her the back seat (no pun intended; you need to see the movie to understand) to less unique characters.
Con: The Lore (-3pts)
This movie is a drama but uses a bunch of lore to explain the supernatural aspect of the story. I had a few problems with this. The first was that it just felt generic, as it we have seen this many times before (which we definitely have). My second issue was that, by explaining the lore, the filmmakers removed the mystery.
How many times have seen this before? A main character (usually a mother) experiences something supernatural, sees a medium to make sense of it, then does some research and learns that an ancient god (basically the devil) is coming after their child (or children). I get that this was intended as a character story, but it was like the horror aspects were pulled directly from a generic horror-film recipe book. Putting the generic nature of the story aside, explaining a horro-film’s villain never goes well. These stories work best when audiences see the villain as unpredictable. We fear what we do not understand and, by telling us what the villain was and what its intentions were, the filmmakers, figuratively, shined a light on the monster in the dark.
Pro: Peter (+5pts)
Peter was a surprisingly interesting character, because of what he had to suffer through. Getting into the details means spoiling a few big moments (or realizations) in the movie, but Peter really goes through a dark ride of emotional trauma. When we meet him, he is pretty unaffected by the death of his grandmother but, by going through the events of this story, he goes through an insane emotional transformation that was exciting to watch.
Audiences will be disguted by his actions in some scenes, and sympathetic towards him in others, but I was impressed by the actor (Alex Wolff). This character goes to some dark places and Alex Wolff did a fantastic job at conveying that to the audience in a subtle and natural way. Alex Wolff has said that he has suffered from some amount of PTSD after filming this movie and I believe it. He had to dive into his character’s dark places and he deserves a ton of credit for hitting this character’s trauma so well. Alex Wolff’s portrayal of this A-to-Z emotional transformation was a lot of fun to watch and, while it was not enough to save the movie from its issues, he certainly deserves praise for diving into this role so impressively.
Con: The Climax (-6pts)
While I wanted to see a horror, and the climax was definitely horror, the climax just did not fit the rest of the movie. This ends up failing for a few reasons: there are random naked people, the horror feels meaningless, and there are no resolutions to the characters’ dramatic stories. The first and easiest to discuss is definitely the naked people. I do not know who made this “creative” decision but, during all the fast-paced horror climax, there are a bunch of very random naked people that are just standing and smiling in the background. It is male and female full-frontal nudity, it is all over the place, and it distracts from the tone that the filmmakers were going for. It was more comical than creepy.
The horror ended up being, unfortunately, meaningless. This was mostly because it felt out-of-place. We got a whole movie of dramatic storytelling and characters that are dealing with tremendous grief. Then we got ton of fast-paced horror crammed into the climax of the film. It felt like there were two filmmakers. The first worked on the majority of the movie and made a dark, intense character story. Then a second came in and took the movie in a completely different, horror-heavy direction. It felt very out-of-place so felt meaningless, was not very scary, and it did not deliver a decent climax to the characters’ stories (just a lot of, seemingly random, horror).
Grade: D+ (69pts)
Hereditary had a lot going for it and had a trailer that peaked the interests of horror-film movie-goers. Too often, filmmakers of horror films sacrifice good stories and character development in order to deliver cheap jump-scares or sometimes genuinely scary moments. For this movie, the opposite was true. While marketed as an intense horror, this movie (while intense at times) ends up being an elaborate and dramatic character story.
With Annie, Charlie, and Peter, we had great characters with great character development and great actors. While Charlie was an enigma, the character takes a backseat (no pun intended; you will understand if you have seen the movie) to Peter and Annie. That being said, the performers put their all into these roles and the characters were captivating as a result. Unfortunately, the end of the movie did not fit with movie that the rising action setup. The rising action was a dramatic character story (which was compelling to some viewers but will be boring to those expecting horror), and the climax was that of a horror film. As a result, we had horror that felt random (and sometimes comical), instead of impactful, and character stories that did not have the satisfying conclusion that audiences will be looking for. This movie had potential, but the filmmakers did not seem to know what direction they wanted to go in, so they delivered a confusing and unsatisfying movie.