Having come from a dysfunctional family dynamic made this movie all the more interesting for me as the story unfolded.
Wait, you want a better lead in than that cold open? Sorry the movie has me going on a “Whiskey tango foxtrot” opening. Ok so this review is obviously late to the train be it hype or damnation, you decide.
I had been hemming and hawing on seeing it until my friend Grim D. Reaper over on MovieCrypt.com gave it the first zero skull review I remember seeing from him in a very long time. As Grim got this Vampire Princess into writing reviews in the first place over 20 years ago I trust his judgement. He and I don’t always see eye to socket, with me being the harsher critic, but I always respect his views. This was enough to turn me away from the film. A week later another dear friend, a true love, and moonlight in my life went the complete other direction on it. She was thrilled with the production and the movie. This left me in an odd spot, two people I trust and value the opinions of have opposite reviews of the film – thus I must see and decide who is right and who is dead. Wait, wrong movie.
From studio A24, which also brought us The VVItch, Ex Machina, and FreeFire; not to mention critical darlings like Lady Bird, Room, and Moonlight; you expect a certain style. This is a studio that has only been around for 5 years and has received 24 Academy Award nominations; and has several wins under its belt. A true indie studio but with a budget they use to make some of the most eclectic sets of films you will find in anyone’s catalogue. It would be dangerous to say they all have a certain vibe as the three mentioned I reviewed couldn’t be more apart in tone, style, or format; yet still there’s something familiar about them that is similar. There is a tight closeness, a sense of risk, and passion behind and on the camera you don’t see in many big budget productions from the major studios. I could tell you there is heart, charm, fear; but you could find those in any studio.
Hereditary does belong amongst the ranks here. You can tell that writer/director Ari Aster had a story in his head and heart he wanted to put on screen. He had a very clear vision on how and what he wanted to shoot which translates to every cell on screen. It is also transparent to me that he is a very talented director who brought out the best performance I have ever seen from Toni Collette. Playing Annie, she is a mother clutching with both fists to try to hold on to a family so damaged by past trauma you have to wonder if there is really anything to save. She is absolutely a powerhouse of acting through the film from sedate to on the edge to well she covers the ranges. If anything her performance is so bold that it completely overshadows Gabriel Byrne who turns in a very subdued performance as Annie’s husband Steve. This turn down, which I find common in indie films like this where the actors energies are just a bit off from usual; turned down from 11 to a nice 7. It works here and gives the necessary balance to Collette’s role. The family is rounded out by Peter, played by Alex Wolff, and Charlie, played by Millie Shapiro. Both actors give a wonderful performance under Aster’s direction and their own abilities do shine be they subdued or manic.
The problem with the movie, despite its technical and artistic proficiency is the story and the characters. For the tension of this supernatural family drama to work, you need to invest yourself. Few of the characters present themselves as likable to me enough for me to care about their fate. This isn’t to say they don’t feel real, because most of their in character actions, dialogue, and beats make sense within the context of the film, the history hinted at, and other points of the movie that paint a mosaic of trauma that can only lead the direction it goes. Yet; if you don’t invest, you don’t let the movie in or let yourself into the movie it could come across almost comical at times; which I know is not the intent. There comes a point where the art gives in to itself and seemingly goes off its own rails and no vision or amazing performance can keep you on the ride.
Now this could be because I watch so many movies. I’ve discussed this before that seeing too many films can actually be detrimental to the movie going experience. You see things, you notice things. It’s hard to avoid words in titles on peoples YouTube videos or reviews; which if you see them and have a certain level of insight into film give away all too much. I remember back in 99 when I read a three sentence review of the Sixth Sense and the last one said “with a twist you won’t see coming.” In that moment I called what it was. It took away a bit of the experience for me and that was 20 years and a thousand or so movies ago – its’s why I promise you all to be spoiler free even in my descriptions of the films.
Hereditary’s hype train is amazing, with a marketing campaign you don’t see much anymore that hearkens back to old 50’s and 60’s movie going experiences with stories of nurses in the theatre for when people faint. I can’t say it lives up to the hype. I wish I could. I think that Grim may have been too harsh on it, but he might be in the same boat I am with so many movies under his belt, certain beats feel almost telegraphed to us; a skill we cannot separate from our experience as we watch the movies we do – especially when people rave about it the way the critics did on this one.
Hereditary does not live up to its marketing campaign; but it is also not bad either. It is a very artistic look at the horror genre in a way I haven’t quite seen before. While sure, I saw many things coming a mile away, the overall structure, camera work, acting, and tight feel to the production are without a doubt to me solid.
Many folks rave on the ending and I can see why. It just didn’t land for me at that level.
What would you rate it?
If I had to give a fang count on this one, it would net maybe a 3.5 out of 5. It is solid, well made in every aspect, but even with my connection of dysfunctional family I didn’t get as invested as I needed to feel the impact of it’s summation. I think this is a good movie and I was intrigued and entertained, but you have to want it. You have to put effort in. I wasn’t all the way there so it only goes just the right side of good.
Should I see it?
If you haven’t already, I can say give it a shot on matinee. I think the atmosphere of a big theatre, dark, and quiet will help the movie for most people. Watching at home, in the light, with all the distractions will certainly take away from the experience.
Would you see it again?
With the right friends? Yes. I think there’s a lot of discussion material to be had about intent, artistry, execution, and of course meaning.
How about buying it?
I’m torn. Without the friend component I don’t think I would watch it again and to spend $20 on it for a physical or digital copy seems off; yet again it’s something to be studied for what it did do.
That was an interesting turn of phrase…
Yeah, wasn’t it? I think this is the perfect film school or art house movie. Not that it looks like a movie from a film school project, but that there’s a lot to analyze here that can and should be. There’s a strong discussion to be had as I said before.
You can easily go either direction on this film which is why I am (perhaps cheaply) landing in the middle; but in a time when we say we want original films – we can’t turn down our nose when we get one that is this well made.