Hereditary ★★★★

Back in the 1980s, one of the TV shows that I used to watch regularly was a show called That's Life.

It was a show that was a sort of consumer affairs and human interest show. It was a weird show in that one minute you would have a feature about a dog that could say "Sausages!" and the next it would be about how some kid drunk bleach thinking it was Sprite.

One of the most memorable stories I remembered being featured on it was about a bloke who bought a cheap car from a second hand showroom. He was driving it down the motorway one evening and the back half of it just fell off. Like, without any warning. Because he'd been sold a car that was actually two halves of cars that had been welded together down the middle. I don't know a lot about cars, in fact I know almost zero. But I'd like to think that even I would spot that the car I was looking at was glued together from two old bangers.

Having finished watching Hereditary, I felt like I'd been sold a film that had been welded together down the middle. Two much different films that just happen to contain the same characters. No harm done, in this case, obviously, and most importantly of all I should point out that I liked both halves of this film. Even so, it reached a point in Hereditary where I sighed to myself because I felt that we had reached the point where this wasn't going to live up to its potential.

The first half of this is quite, quite brilliant. It was genuinely on course to be the best film I'd seen for the first time all year, possibly even the first 5 star film I'd watched this year. It's stunning. It digs deep into some recognisable horror devices, especially the creepy kid one, but explores these areas in ways that so few horror films have done so in the last decade or so.

There are isolated images and visions, things written on the wall, noises being made, characters behaving not quite as we might expect. There's nothing that's massively original here but it's all just off-centre in a really unsettling way. It's matched by some stunning visuals - the way the family all seem to be captured by angles and lighting that seem unique to them was a lovely idea that isolates everyone in a troubled family where, actually, everyone is on their own.

Then there's a shocking incident which isn't scary so much but perhaps caused the biggest gasp I've ever let out at a cinema screening, and it gets even better for a while. Delving into grief in the deepest and most heartfelt way, this felt like a film that was really being directed by someone who had something heartbreaking to get off his chest here. I don't know if that's the case with Ari Aster, but I wouldn't be surprised if this mirrored events in his own personal life. It really is extraordinarily powerful.

Then Ann Dowd invites Toni Collette to do a seance. That was the moment I just felt this film's momentum shift. I held on to the hope that Hereditary would cling on to the emotion and very human horror that existed in its first half, but it slips away very quickly. I don't think it's a case that Aster becomes too engrossed in horror cliche here although there's a lot of that going on.

Collette's performance moves from being remarkably powerful and conflicted to being her best impression of Shelley Duvall in The Shining. A bloody good impression, I should add, out of fairness. The tropes are no longer providing bases, but becoming front and centre. It starts to stretch itself and do far too much, losing its self control and becoming, well, a complete mess really.

An enjoyable mess, though. Aster doesn't turn to the jump scare, thankfully, and while he completely loses the thread of what he should have continued to do, he doesn't lose sight of how to keep this entertaining. Because it's a really enjoyable and wild ride in that final third especially, even if it does disappointingly stretch out that very last scene when ambiguity would have made it far more affecting.

It's just, y'know. Man, the first hour of this. I just adored it. It was exciting and confident and poses question marks about everyone here and who they might be. I think that a rewatch of this will see me being more forgiving of what happens in the second hour of this, even though, as I've stated, I still really enjoyed it. I'll be expecting it and can maybe appreciate it more greatly.

Right now I feel like I came so close to watching something genuinely sensational and as I am someone who is infuriatingly fussy when it comes to horror sometimes, I can't dismiss feelings of disappointment right now. I am very excited for Aster's future though, as we all should be.

Steve G liked these reviews