Hereditary ★½

"You didn't kill her. She isn't gone."

Despite the low rating, I didn't hate this movie. But it is perhaps the most disappointing horror movie I've seen in quite some time. Why? I think it's the story, full of red herrings and unexplained little things that go nowhere that really had me irked in the theater. The film's virtual dearth of jump scares and lack of exposition are somewhat refreshing for this genre, but the film itself gets too bogged down in a meandering story that, ultimately, had me feeling a bit cold to the whole thing and with a decided lack of spookiness and outright scares.

It's a shame because I had an instant, visceral reaction to the trailer and I anticipated this quite intensely with it being an original, indie horror movie written and directed by a first-timer to the feature film game, Ari Aster. I enjoyed the set-up to Hereditary, essentially a horror film built around the concept of family trauma, mourning, guilt and anger stemming from the death of loved ones. I love the idea of a film that takes that backdrop and slowly unravels the family dynamic at the center. Aster's intentions are great, but the execution is off. I was more impressed by his technical abilities as a director than his narrative ones as a writer. But in no way did I come out of Hereditary disinterested in what Aster will do next. In a similar vein as newcomer Trey Edward Shults, I think Aster has a bright future as long as he works out some kinks in his storytelling.

For what it's worth, Hereditary is an overall spooky experience even though I came away from it feeling that element was decidedly uneven. I feel that the filmmakers didn't take full advantage of what could've been some creepier set design, especially with the family's house, which I thought didn't look interesting and out-of-place in a horror movie.

The lack of exposition does serve to put the audience in the shoes of the central family, experiencing things right when they experience them, so as not to let us in on some of the secrets of the film. But that same tactic kind of works against the film in that it leaves the door wide open for elements of the story to go absolutely nowhere, making for a frustrating experience. I just feel that Aster didn't quite get his points across in the writing and perhaps over-wrote a film that emphasizes tone and mood to a somewhat consistent degree but is too preoccupied with strands of story here and there to make for a comprehensive whole.

I came away from this movie with a great respect for Toni Collette, who is brilliant in this role. She's emotional and terrifying, turning in an intense effort all around. My feeling is that she's been underrated for a while and that she needs to be featured in more films. She brings such emotional weight to this role and takes advantage of every opportunity to provide intensity and desperation. I had no problems with the rest of the cast, although I would've liked to have seen Gabriel Byrne, another super underrated actor, get more to do. Alex Wolff also made me sit up and take notice with his visceral performance, as well. Despite little screen time, I enjoyed Milly Shapiro's debut role but I wish Aster gave her a little more backstory and character development.

My experience of watching Hereditary was an exercise in waiting to be scared. The film is more sad overall than it is scary. As it dragged me toward its somewhat sloppy climax, I couldn't help but think that this movie was pulling influences from films such as The Shining, Rosemary's Baby and other horror classics of that ilk without coming even remotely close to their narrative focuses or execution. It was simply a disappointing experience.

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