Lords of Salem for dummies. Aster has no discernible style beyond the vapid millennial belief that symmetrical compositions, glacially slow zooms, and eerie scores equate horror. Like Cosmatos, Refn, and Garland this work is inherently reactionary, both in the composition of the text and the reception of it. Every hallow shot brags about how its not Blumhouse, how its not a "cheap slasher" like a hipster at a bar loudly explaining why she smokes rollies, even though she was an American Spirits bitch three months ago. I'm not sure when slow and boring became synonymous with the idea of intellect. Perhaps its the belief that a meditative cinema is always smarter and more profound. One could trace it to the emergence of Hollywood prestige pictures in the 1950s, with the slew of histrionic Cinemah hand crafted by dullard playwrights who had no business on a studio lot. The slow-as-meditative-as-more smarter attitude ignores the fact that these films only exist as responses to genre film making. Like contrarians in a debate, they wait for the real innovators to take a chance and put it all on the line while they clinically assess why it sucks. This is not unlike Mystery Science Theater, Riff Tracks, or the hordes of cynical YouTube videos that trash every movie, comic book, television show, and video game. They offer nothing but responses to the work of someone else. And aren't you smarter for knowing it sucks, like the base audience of The Room and Troll 2. But that in itself is not reason enough to dismiss a film. Plenty of great filmmakers made careers out of crafting sophisticated takes on low cultural modes. Kubrick for one. But maybe Kubrick is to blame for all of this. Like white frat boys who play Beatles songs on their acoustic at Potbelly, the acolytes of Kubrick learned all the wrong lessons.

The recent spate of "elevated horror" has produced some pleasures. While I didn't care for The Witch or It Follows, I can detect the presence of a vision, and even the first 15 minutes of A Quiet Place was pretty excellent, despite the middling bore of the remaining film. But Hereditary stands as a truly remarkable achievement. Aster indulges in cheap trick after cheap trick, all while being championed for making cinema that rejects the jump scare in favor of the slow burn. He breaks his established style whenever he can get a quick shock, abandoning the psychological unraveling in favor of gimmick. The shot of Charlie's decapitated head is among the most gratuitous shots I've seen, not because the "horror" of it, but because it's absolutely unmotivated beyond slipping in some cheap gore. Even worse is the camera work in the first seance. The fussy compositions are abandoned to "prove" that no one is moving the glass, like a Chris Angel special.

But this is Aster's debut feature and he deserves some slack. And even I have to admit these weren't the biggest problems. What really sinks this is its total lack of ideas. Whatever is here, from satanic panic to gas-lighting psychology to pagan ritual, is only because the tropes Aster inherited are pregnant with meaning. Any genre film has defacto themes simply by using them. Devils, demons, vampires, and zombies are so loaded with centuries of narratives that film makers don't have to do any work. This can be liberating: focus on spinning a good yarn and the monsters will smuggle their meanings in for you. But Hereditary offers neither. It's stuttering, repetitive narrative amounts to a grab-bag of tricks and the ideas of grief and loss and even of family resentments are so under-cooked that they only exist in the silliness of Toni Collette's outbursts. Her arc is so slapdash, so rushed, so in a hurry to be slow and then suddenly climactic. Hereditary doesn't know how to modulate, which is genuinely surprising for a film that's been praised as the work of a master storyteller.

These problems of composition and reception speak to a growing pattern in a lot of contemporary cinephile writing: the presence of tropes is mistaken for theme or meaning. If the filmmaker's aren't doing the work, why should the critics pick up their slack?

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