You didn’t kill her, Annie. She isn’t gone.
So, this is another one of those reviews I’ve been putting off because I’m going to have a hell of a time figuring out how to put my thoughts on Hereditary down. Let’s start from the beginning. This movie is kind of a perfect storm of horror, in my opinion. This is director Aster’s debut feature film and it’s one of the most assured debuts I’ve ever seen. His eye is truly masterful and he creates a dark atmosphere that is both literally low on light, yet still beautiful, and metaphorically bleak. Helping him immeasurably is the disconcerting score by Colin Stetson, droning and rattling in disquieting ways, so disquieting that when I spotted the soundtrack the other day, I actually thought to myself that I didn’t think I even cared to hear the music again. And, I guess, that’s the place where things get complex with this movie because it’s a true masterpiece, through and through (yes, even that much puzzled over ending), but I honestly can’t see myself ever watching it again. Is it worth watching once? Well, yes, but I recommend it with serious caveats. It’s a harrowing, deeply disturbing film that deals with the absolute darkness of grief in as intense a way as I’ve ever seen and that’s not even getting to the supernatural elements that eventually pop up. I question whether people with young children should watch this movie; I mean, I’ve seen movies with creepy kids before, but Milly Shapiro and the way she’s used in this film is next-level and there are images burned into my brain from this movie. Even the sound design of the movie is haunting; there’s a scene, and if you’ve seen the movie you know the one I’m talking about, where a character’s reaction to something quite awful is played entirely off screen, only through sound and it’s a sound that still haunts me. I’m a big believer in catharsis in films and so I don’t fight horror movies the way some people do. I think a lot of people carry nerves and fears home from horror movies because they resisted being scared in the theater and were thus denied the catharsis that they would have experienced that would have allowed all those fears to come to fruition and not be carried away. Well, that’s all very nice and philosophical, but, look, no horror movie has ever disturbed my sleep before. Until Hereditary which literally kept me awake for hours, not scared exactly, but just haunted by those horrible moments, unwilling to close my eyes or turn the light off because I knew those images would be in my mind. And this movie is merciless to its characters in the suffering it inflicts and the hopelessness it puts them in. With material this unflinching, it’s no surprise that Aster gets astounding performances from many of his cast members. Alex Woolf, a young actor that impressed me as the one good thing in My Friend Dahmer, another recent horror movie, gives a genuinely great performance as the son of the troubled family at the heart of this film. Character actress Ann Dowd is a scene stealing marvel as a grief-stricken mother seeking solace in her hope for an afterlife; you won’t forget her last scene in quite a while. But, of course, it’s Toni Collette who just absolutely owns this film with a performance of such ferocity and unbridled force that it’s awe-inspiring. Collette is one of those actresses who’s maybe never given a bad performance, so it’s really saying something to say that this is her best performance, but it’s undeniably true as far as I’m concerned. While the images are disturbing and haunting, it’s the raw intensity of Collette’s performance that finally elevates this to “one-time watches,” in my opinion. It's a shame and disgrace that she’s gotten no real awards attention because this is, not just a horror film, but such a profoundly distressing one. I keep talking about how disturbing the film is, so maybe I should say that it’s also scary in a visceral way. There are a couple of quasi-sceance scenes that are absolutely terrifying. Now, what scares you is kind of like what makes you laugh: deeply personal. It’s possible that you could read this review and then go on to watch Hereditary and just kind of shrug and wonder what in the world I was going on about. But still, be prepared. From where I sit, Hereditary is one of the greatest horror films of all time. It pulls no punches and it’s harrowing viewing. It finds the terror and suffering in the threat of the impinging supernatural and, even worse, in the real-life traumas of dysfunctional families under extreme strain. In Hereditary, generational curses are dangerously real in more ways than one. 4 stars.
tl;dr – a horror masterpiece, this draining, distressing, utterly harrowing exploration of grief & family trauma isn’t for the faint-hearted, but it’s filmmaking at its most visceral. 4 stars.