Film Review: "Hereditary" continues the trend of horror with substance
Horror films are considered to be easy money. And for good reason. Most of us love to get scared because it activates our fight/flight response, triggering a cocktail of chemicals in our bodies that aid in our survival (adrenaline, endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, etc). While this might not be as exciting a feeling when you’re walking alone in Northbridge at night, in a safe space where you’re removed from actual danger it should be a wholly positive experience. Studies have found that the fictional nature of horror creates a distance between the viewer and the violent acts, providing them with a sense of control. In fact, a viewer will be more negatively affected after watching a more realistic horror (Green Room) than something more fantastical (The Witch).
Which probably explains why I’ve been sleeping with the lights on after watching Hereditary.
Hereditary has been my most anticipated film of this year (second to Ghost Stories, which is yet to grace our screens), and for good reason. It has been hyped as the best horror film of 2018, and as I am one who usually susceptible to the hype, I was counting down the days until its release. However, there isn’t a constant fear of jump scares or adrenaline filled moments where you’re screaming at the screen. Instead, Hereditary is a slow burner that manages to expertly instil a growing sense of dread and uncertainty throughout. This builds up to a fear that resulted in me curled up in my seat, hiding behind my jumper, uttering the occasional "Nope, nope fuck this, nope". I stand by this reaction; it was spooky.
I’ll be as vague as possible so this film isn’t ruined for you (seriously, it’s best to go in blind). The film centres on grief. Annie (Toni Collette) struggles with the loss of her mother, one that she had a particularly strained relationship with. Annie's children Charlie (Milly Shapiro) and Peter (Alex Wolff) don’t seem particularly phased by this; Charlie continues with her unsettling art projects, and Peter avoids his family and smokes bowls under the bleachers (teenagers, am I right?). The only source of stability in the family comes from the father, Steve (Gabriel Byrne), who struggles to keep everyone together.
Gabriel Byrne sits in the background. While he performs decently with what he is given, his character is secondary to the rest of the cast. Milly Shapiro moves from Broadway to make her film debut, and gives a haunting performance as a slightly troubled 13 year old Charlie. Her ability to calmly eat a chocolate bar during her grandmother's funeral is eerier than it sounds. But Alex Wolff delivers what I would consider my favourite scene of the entire film: With absolutely no dialogue, we can easily read his thoughts, as his face, with all its subtle contortions, conveys a struggle to process a truly horrifying and unthinkable reality. However, the true star of this film is Toni Collette. Collette shines in this, her horrified reactions mixed with manic periods of joy cover pretty much all of the stages of grief. Her strained relationship with her son is further put to the test when she spirals out of control.
Writer/Director Ari Aster had written nine scripts prior to Hereditary, yet struggled to source financing. Following the recent trends of low budget, high return films seen from Blumhouse and A24, he decided a horror film may be easier to finance. His goal was “to make a film about grief and trauma that shows the corrosive effect they could have on a family, as opposed to showing a family going through loss, suffering, and ultimately being strengthened”. Corrosive is definitely the right word, as the family begins to push each other away while finding their own way to grieve.
Sit this one out if you're looking for some cheap thrills. Hereditary is more horrifying than terrifying, and will stay with you long after you finish watching it.