Ben’s review published on Letterboxd:
Way too much going on at once here for it to work as much of anything. In this sense, it becomes obvious that Hereditary is from a first time director in Ari Aster, as he throws in just about every horror trope that has gained critical and financial success in the past five years. The film really does have it all: the slow, brooding pace, the ambient soundtrack that becomes unsettling from the eclectic percussion, the long takes with smooth camera movement, haunted house spooks and scares a la James Wan, occultism, a weird looking kid, exploration of grief/guilt through horror, etc.
If that seems like a lot it is because it is, and the film is unable to really commit fully to what it wants to be, resulting in a jarring tone. It probably would have worked well had it fully committed to one of the multiple films going on here, but as it stands we have a story of grief and regret that goes completely off the rails. It is all an exercise in excess, a mishmash of what is "in" right now in horror. The camerawork in particular is somewhat infuriating, I'm all for clever camerawork but this film just felt gimmicky at times. Specifically, a shot where Collette's character returns to visit Jeanie, and as she walks down the hall the camera is upside down, only to smoothly flip when she passes to go right side up. Maybe trimming unnecessary shots like this will make it so your horror movie isn't two hours long, brutal when there's not many scares to be had. To be quite honest, I think I'm about sick of the A24 art house horror/thriller style that all feel about the same, relying heavily on the art house style. This is fine if you actually make a compelling film around it, but recent busts like It Comes at Night and now Hereditary make it clear that the style is stale and the film needs to be ACTUALLY SCARY if it wants to work. Hereditary is too complex for its own good.
The real bummer about this is there are parts that are really great in the film, which makes me think that Aster one day will make a good horror movie if he learns to have a more focused vision. Toni Collette gives a wonderful performance, honestly the family as a whole is pretty solid at capturing what it feels like to struggle with loss. And a certain car scene is one of the more shocking moments I've seen in a film, an incredibly powerful (and, perhaps exploitative moment given where the film goes) moment that genuinely left me stunned for a good few minutes after.
Hereditary could've been great if it decided to be a drama focused on grief, a haunted house movie (because boy does this at the end want to be The Conjuring so fucking badly), a weird pulpy occult film, a more straightforward ghost flick, or about family dynamics following a complicated loss, but not all at once. What we get is a bloated horror movie that is light on everything scary and compelling, instead bouncing around from theme to theme resulting in a climax that feels so out of left field it is almost laughable.
Am I missing something here? The praise is baffling to me. This movie does literally nothing better than other movies recently have, the grief as horror is probably better in The Babadook, the spooky house moments pale to Wan's work, the occultism feels like a lazy way to end a film, and the family drama is much better in a film like A24's own Krisha. There's a good movie in here somewhere, it's just got way too much going on to really see.