Hereditary ★★★★½

MOMMY DEAREST

Every cinematic experience is inherently subjective, but the horror genre presents a particularly vivid illustration of just how personal responses to films can be. Fear is a primeval emotion – perhaps *the* primeval emotion – and as such it’s tremendously challenging to parse exactly why a feature might elicit shrieks of terror from one viewer and an indifferent shrug from another. A critic can describe whether a horror picture “works” from a storytelling standpoint, or why the elements of its style are distinctive, but there’s no guarantee that any given viewer will be on a particular film’s spine-tingling wavelength. Even ostensibly unassailable genre classics like 'The Exorcist' (1973), 'Halloween' (1978), and 'The Shining' (1980) have their stalwart detractors – not just the usual smugly contrarian critics, but ordinary people who simply don’t find those pictures scary.

All of this is to say that one should take the essential subjectivity of the frightening into account when weighing the following statement about writer-director Ari Aster’s feature film debut, 'Hereditary': It is, hands down, the most terrifying new horror film that this writer has seen in more than a decade.

It doesn’t necessarily follow that Aster’s feature is the *best* horror film in the past 10 years – that honor still goes to Robert Eggers’ 2015 masterpiece, 'The Witch' – but, rather, that it elicits a deliriously intense reaction from the viewer, the sort of dark, pulsating terror that comes along only rarely in a genre lamentably overstuffed with schlock that is alternately tedious, clumsy, and insulting (and occasionally all three). In such a landscape, 'Hereditary' arrives like a white-hot dagger driven directly into the base of the viewer’s skull. It’s not merely “good”; it’s downright traumatic. Aster conjures a sensibility of refined, gnawing anxiety that slowly swells over the course of the film’s opening 30 minutes and doesn’t relent until its hellishly glorious final shot. In an era where even casual filmgoers are inured to the formulaic shocks of mainstream horror, 'Hereditary' is the most uncommon beast of all: a story that remains brutally unpredictable and unhinged right to its pitch-black conclusion...

Read on at the Lens:

www.cinemastlouis.org/lens/review-hereditary

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