A24 seem to specialize in making horror movies that people have quite adverse and polarized reactions to. The Witch, It Comes at Night and most recently Hereditary have also been praised by critics, but left a sizeable number of audience members bored to the core. It’s perhaps because the respective film’s trailers didn’t promise the scare a minute fest that people were expecting, hence the word of mouth for all films involved took a dramatically decline following the first week of release (I have one major issue with the trailer for Hereditary but it’s not that it promised a vastly different film).
Hereditary is a family drama with strong elements of horror. As the title suggests the film can easily be seen as being about mental illness and how this can affect various family members. Different mental illnesses are passed on as different generations of the Leigh family have suffered from various mental illness ranging from multiple personality disorder to schizophrenia.
As seen in the film, this clearly puts great stress on the family, and the scariest and most unnerving factor is how the family unraveled after Annie’s mental deterioration following two tragic loses. This destruction of a seemingly close family (as close as one could get with all the difficulties they have faced) is eye opening and thought provoking as the film wrestles with guilt at feelings that one could have done more to help a loved suffering from a devastating disease.
Just because Hereditary deals with complex themes, it doesn’t make it less of a horror movie. Director Ari Aster has made his influences clear (Rosemary’s Baby, Jack Clayton’s The Innocents) but there’s something about how he executes the scare that doesn’t quite work. The buildup is there, the creepiness factor is there, but there’s something about it that doesn’t quite work. It’s too quick, too sudden, too matter of fact, and there are some instances where a scare is executed the film quickly cuts to another scene where the intensity is far less. There’s plenty of buildup, but very little aftermath. This struggle to execute these horror moments do link to where the fails and goes slightly off the rails as the film’s final act becomes generically cliched and, at times, unconvincing and borderline laughable.
Yet, the performances are uniformly excellent, Toni Collette will certainly grab all the plaudits, but good supporting performances from Milly Shapiro and Gabriel Byrne (who interestingly is the only character unaffected by any mental illness, merely highlighting its hereditary nature). There’s no denying that Ari Aster has some interesting ideas, and there’s no denying that it’s easy to see why audiences were so spit, but Hereditary has plenty of things going for it that will make it a highly regarded horror film in future.