Hereditary ★★★

In his newly re-issued book, “Transcendental Style in Film”, writer and directed Paul Schrader drew up a 3-sided diagram in which illustrated what he says are the 3 primary directions that filmmakers decide to take once they step away from traditional narrative filmmaking. The 3 cornerstones of the diagram are the "The Surveillance Cam", "The Mandala", and "The Art Gallery". There's also a 4th section that Schrader likes to call "The Tarkovsky Ring" named after the great Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky where a filmmaker "is no longer making cinema for a paying audience. He’s making it for institutions, for museums, and so forth." Hereditary is a film that in my mind would fit perfectly within that so-called Tarkovsky Ring. If you strip away all of its genre movie convictions, it's about as inaccessible a film as you're likely to find in the multiplexes these days. In other words, it's another A24 horror film! In fact, this very well may be the A24-iest of all A24 horror films. This coming from a guy who usually waits with bated breath for their next output but it seems to me like their formula is starting wear thin... at least when it comes to horror.

Just once, I'd like to walk out of one of these things with a sense of satisfaction instead of feeling as though I've just been beaten in the head over and over again with a hammer. We get it, you want to be accepted along with all the other cool kids that make "arthouse" films for a thinking man's audience! We're going to take Rosemary's Baby and mash it up against Repulsion! And then... and then... and then... we're going to do what Robert Eggers did in The VVitch but make it even weirder! We're going to make it so bizarre and so inexplicable that nobody'll know what hit them! Then they'll finally realize know how smart we are and how they dumb they are! I actually admired writer/director Ari Aster's overall esthetic from behind the camera. He showcases some impressive poise for a first time director. It's his pretentions that I have a hard time reconciling with. If I'm in the mood to admire a painting I'll go to a museum but when I walk into a cinema to see a horror film it's usually with the goal of getting scared out of my wits. Is Hereditary scary? No, not particularly. Is it tense at least? Sometimes yes I suppose. It's just overall unpleasantness disguised as well orchestrated malaise but where the lines beteween unpleasantness and malaise are perpertually blurred to the point where they're nearly indistinguishable from one another.

The one thing that distinguishes Hereditary from a lot of other more run-of-the-mill horror films is the fact that the film really puts a lot of weight on the shoulders of its actors. The actors in this are required to act with a capitol A because otherwise the whole thing could potentially devolve into some sort of a bizarre comedy. Luckily that's not the case as Aster assembled a talented group of actors spearheaded by the great Gabriel Byrne and Toni Collette as the patriarch and matriarch of a troubled clan with a long and checkered history of mental illness. Collette in particular swings for the fences with her performance here. While I can't say that her performance was quite note-perfect as there were a few scenes that were a bit too broad for my taste, I certainly admired and appreciated her dedication to the role. It's something else. The performance that struck me the most though, was Milly Shapiro's performance as Charlie, Collette and Byrne's shy and withdrawn 13-year-old daughter. I don't know where in the hell she came from, all's I know is I want more and it's a crying shame that she doesn't get featured more prominently in the film because she's easily the most fascinating part about it.