Blu-Ray Review – Hereditary

Hereditary is the big horror movie of the year, complete with five-star reviews and loads of buzz. I’m not sure of that’s a good thing or a bad thing: reviews that good can be hard to live up to. It’s the debut film of Ari Aster, who had previously done some shorts at AFI, which were apparently good enough to get some attention.

The film opens when Ellen, a grandmother, dies but leaves behind a presence that has a profound impact on her family, even after her death. Her daughter Annie (Toni Collette) and granddaughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) are especially hard hit. Annie starts to attend a support group for the recently bereaved, but then there is another unfortunate incident that affects the whole family.  Tensions between Annie and her other child, Peter (Alex Wolff) begin to escalate, and what looks like supernatural aspects ramps up.

It’s interesting to learn that Hereditary was not originally written as a horror film: it was, meant to be a family-breakdown drama. So while it has a relationship with films like Rosemary’s Baby and Don’t Look Back, it is also influenced by films like The Ice Storm and Ordinary People. That may be where the problems start. Highly esteemed credits who normally don’t like horror movies gave it the high marks, and much of that is deserved: there is a real feeling of completely hopeless dread. When the supernatural elements do come in, although it’s effective and creepy, for me it all seems a bit hokey. It thinks too much of itself to just be a horror film, and tries for loads of serious when it’s really just a demonic possession story. And the director isn’t Roman Polanski, so some audiences have even started laughing because it takes itself so seriously.

Toni Colette’s great – she gets a little hysterical but puts in a really good performance. It might even gain her an Oscar nomination, now that genre films get a look-in. Wolff and Shapiro also give their best. You get the feeling that Shapiro’s character has an unnamed disability, although it’s never spoken of, and Wolff ends up carrying it on his shoulders at the end, and it’s a breakthrough role for him—he’s turning out to have quite a range for a former child actor.

I would say its slightly over-directed, and there are a couple of unnecessary plot elements that are a bit silly. It generates a good sense of dread, with some effective and shocking scenes. But I felt another arty horror film this year, The Quiet Place, was willing to go there and just be a horror/sci-fi film and was better for it. It’s also simply too long at over two hours. Horror movies generally shouldn’t break 90-100 minutes limit, because it’s hard for audiences to prolong suspense for any longer (unless you’re Kubrick or Polanski). I felt it could have used a good trim.

The disc includes a substantial amount of deleted scenes and a 20-minute making-of featurette.

★★★½

Ian Schultz

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