Special Agent Cooper’s review published on Letterboxd:
As I watch the credits roll in stunned silence, a couple immediate thoughts come to mind. First, the Academy should be embarrassed for snubbing Toni Collette an Oscar nomination, because she was just perfect. Second, after watching two of his films, I have an odd feeling Ari Aster grew up in one of those gross full family nudist colonies.
Although Hereditary was the first Aster feature film, I actually saw Midsommar first, so that is my lens for comparison. A look at my reviews will make it clear that I thought both were absolutely brilliantly disturbing. While Midsommar brought some interesting purposefully jarring comedic tonal shifts into its broad daylight hellscape, Hereditary often finds itself in darker "haunted house" style tone and aesthetic, with a couple noticeable exceptions that won't be revealed in a spoiler-free review. This one is full on darkness. Be aware going in that this will not be for the faint of heart.
This film instantly sets a mature and deliberate tone of family drama amidst grief twofold. Tragedy surrounds this family. In the first act, it feels almost akin to Mike Flanagan's The Haunting of Hill House, in that it is more about dealing with grief and family skeletons, with disturbing imagery flavoring the narrative instead of taking the usual lazier modern horror approach of writing a story and characters around horror jump scare set pieces. The dread and feeling that something is slightly askew is always completely palpable, even when it feels more like a drama than horror film. That's 100% on the director, wonderful. The film gradually escalates out of drama and tragedy into a bizarre and slowly unraveling horror mystery with tons of surreal and bizarre imagery. It continues to escalate and escalate until arriving at a shocking and creepy climax piece, with a last 25 minutes that feel positively blistering compared to the slow tone we start with in the exposition. Ari Aster used a very similar framework with Midsommar. To me, this is a masterclass in pacing a long movie. Start slow and develop the mood, characters and some intrigue. Gradually escalate both the weirdness of the events and the clues of the backstory and finally hit the audience with a bizarre full power surreal horror nightmare for a shocking ending.
It's a formula that works for him, also in large part due to the wonderful cinematography, carefully selected use of extended silence/tension in the score and powerhouse performances. Toni Collette is the biggest standout here, but everyone involved is strong. Ann Dowd and Alex Wolff were also continually convincing. Fully recommended for very patient viewers that love their drama to be enveloped in disturbing weirdo horror.