The horror genre has been going through something of a renaissance over the past few years which was highlighted further by the nomination of Get Out at this year’s Oscars (making it only the sixth horror film to receive one for best picture). Great horror films have always been in existence but we are now in a period where they are once again achieving both commercial success and critical acclaim.
Ari Aster’s Hereditary looks set to continue that trend this year in a film that quickly developed a mighty reputation before it had even hit cinemas. Sensationally dubbed as “this generation’s The Exorcist” those going to see it will no doubt do so with a lot of expectation, which is not always a good thing.
Knowing as little as possible about the story will ensure a far more intense experience so we will only provide a brief outline. The funeral of Annie’s (Toni Collette) mother opens the film and their complicated relationship hangs over the heads of the Graham family for the following two hours we spend with them.
She is married to Steve (Gabriel Byrne) and together they have to deal with an even deeper tragedy that affects their two teenage children – Peter (Alex Wolff) and Charlie (Milly Shapiro). While attending a grief support group Annie meets Joan (Ann Dowd) and gradually a darker side of their family history comes to the fore, engulfing all four family members.
There isn’t much further you can go without stepping into spoiler territory but things get increasingly more twisted the closer we get to the mental illness problems that have plagued the family for generations.
Fans of jump scare horrors may not warm so easily to Hereditary as it takes time to reach its pay off. Although, at over two hours you could suggest it takes a little too long and relies heavily on atmosphere without going for the jugular to create moments that are truly scary.
The sense of impending doom Aster sustains is impressive, complemented by an off-kilter score and some sharp visuals that add to the sense of disorientation. However, it is Toni Collette’s performance that is magnetic enough to keep everything together. Watching her own emotional state deteriorate as the madness around her descends claws at your own stability and uncertainty about where things are heading.
Where the film ultimately ends up is something of a disappointment, its bluntness feeling out of sync with the unknown entity it proposes for so long. Aster sets the stage with an oppressive mood but keeps his cards too close to his chest and the sudden leap of faith we are asked to make ends up looking slightly comical.
While Hereditary isn’t as terrifyingly scary as it has been made out to be it demonstrates the arrival of a director who could become a force to be reckoned with and produces enough tension and chills to make it one of the best horrors released this year. Of course, fear is subjective, so you may well find yourself struggling to sleep once you return home back to the real world.