Hereditary and all the images you see in this review are owned by A24
Directed by Ari Aster
You know… I’m starting to feel like the old man yelling at clouds. For whatever reason, THIS kind of horror film (mostly put out by A24) is the new hotness in horror and I just can’t understand it. I’ve sat through far too many weighty and slow paced exercises in excessive cruelty that still manage to get critical acclaim, and I just can’t understand it. Now they had to make one of these with one of my favorite actresses which means I HAVE to go see it even if it’s probably gonna be more of the same. GREAT! I LOVE sitting through things that ruin my day, don’t you!? Anyway, will this be the one that manages to be thoughtful, interesting, and GOOD instead of just provocative for the sake of pretension, or will this be yet another film I’ll want to bury in the backyard with cement so that even if it comes back as a zombie it’s not going anywhere? Let’s find out!!
Annie Graham (Toni Collette) is a mother of two who just lost her own mother and is having trouble coping with the loss; mostly by repressing her feelings, but also because her mother was a… shall we say COMPLICATED person, and whatever secrets Annie is dealing with are not something she’s ready to share with everyone else. Unfortunately her daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) had a particular attachment to her and is lashing out in her own way which is only bringing more and stress onto the family. Her husband’s pretty cool with it though (Gabriel Byrne) as he’s a PEACE KEEPER who really just floats in and out of situations trying to cause as little fuss as possible, and their son Peter (Alex Wolff) is well on his way to being an emotionally repressed mess of his own, though that might just be the teenage angst talking. Anyway… let’s just say that things get PRETTY bad from there as the death of Annie’s mother turns out to be the LEAST of their problems as… things get pretty bad from there. Annie’s slowly unraveling from the stress and the guilt of… whatever happens, and it’s tearing the entire family apart; especially Peter who… let’s just say isn’t quite equipped to deal with all this. With so much chaos at home and very little support outside of it other than Annie’s friend Joan (Ann Dowd), will this family manage to get past this… very bad thing that happened, and come together as a functional family? How much hardships, horror, and emotional scarring will they have to go through for even a hope of surviving… whatever this is? Why… you know what, just why. WHY!?
I don’t get it. I really don’t get it. I’ll never understand why movies like It Comes at Night and Mother can get praised to death by critics while genuinely fun, thoughtful, and well executed horror films like The Purge: election Year barely rise above average with them. I don’t get how movies that do little else than competently frame misery, hatred, and suffering are considered bold while movies like The Witch do the same thing only don’t make the experience as painful as possible. Whenever a movie like this comes out, I always feel like the odd one out, and while I could tell you that it doesn’t bother me because I’m a MAVERICK and I PLAY BY MY OWN RULES, after a while it does. I absolutely hated this movie, and the fact that something that caused me so much misery is being talked about like it’s the next evolution in TRUE horror filmmaking just makes me cringe; like it’s a classy alternative to the crass and disposable fare many turn their nose up to yet are actually a total joy to watch. I’m feeling a bit bitter right now, but can you really blame me if you saw this movie too? Even if you LIKED it, could you fault me for being in an absolutely dispirited state of mind? I’m sure there are people who can find entertainment and joy in such a movie like this, but all I could do was beg for this to end as soon as possible; not because I was scared, shocked, or in THAT much suspense, but because I knew that what I was watching was only going to depress me and ruin the rest of my day. So… mission accomplished I guess?
Considering how wide the disconnect is between me and critics on this movie, I feel like a six year old screaming their head off in Jaws; proclaiming how much I hate it between gasps for air while everyone else is recognizing the brilliance in the material. I just can’t see what’s so freaking BRILLIANT here to make up for just how depraved things get. And the thing is, I was getting impatient with this thing BEFORE shit really hit the fan (and then hit again, and again, and again) because even without me physically reeling at the utter grotesqueness of certain aspects of this movie (both in terms of its visuals as well as the twists in the story) I found myself just kind of bored. It takes quite a long time for things to start ramping up at about the twenty minute mark, but every time the movie throws another horrible turn at you it then sits and wallows in it for a ridiculously long time. I don’t think I would have liked it that much more if it was shorter, but this thing is OVER two hours and if you’re not grooving on its wretched wavelength, then this is going to be the most tedious slog imaginable; at least when you’re not questioning whether to walk out so you don’t puke up your guts. And I know how that sounds. I know that the gore hounds or the horror fans are gonna look at that and think I’m talking about some Human Centipede two or A Serbian Film style endurance test (the former is better, the latter… I appreciate more), but I’m not. This is pure uncut misery which I wouldn’t say is a topic we SHOULDN’T explore in film and media, but the execution is so unfathomably hopeless that I can’t see what you’d GAIN by watching it. Something like World’s Greatest Dad is a pretty miserable experience, but it benefits from a smart script, a stellar performance by Robin Williams, and a message that resonates because it ultimately makes the journey worth taking. I won’t say there’s NOTHING worthwhile in this, but what good there is SO doesn’t make up for its one note dive into absolute anguish.
Okay, so I’ve said my piece, but there are still PLENTY of people who will tell you the exact opposite of what I said. Let’s at least try to indulge them a bit and see if I can at least explain why things that this is getting praised for did not work for me! Actually, first I want to address something I have been seeing in reviews that I VEHEMENTLY disagree with. Several critics (including the director themselves) are taking pot shots at “lower class” horror films from studios like Blumhouse and talking about this like it’s the classy alternative. I’ll tell you this; movies like The Purge: Election Year have a million better things to say than anything in this freaking movie, and I don’t think I’ve seen a film as gratuitously violent as this one since The Green Inferno, so I don’t buy that argument for a second. It has the pretensions of being a classier form of horror like The Witch, but it doesn’t have any of the rigorous control or imagination to really back that up, so anyone beating THAT drum should probably take a closer look at the MANY great horror films we’ve gotten in the last few years; even ones that aren’t distributed by A24. Now ASIDE from that, the big overriding thematic element that everyone is praising the film for is its haunting look at grief and how toxic familial relationships can destroy everyone with in it. I will agree that those themes ARE there and there are moments where the film really captures that in ways that other great horror (or horror-ish) films have been able to capture. I’m particularly reminded of Rosemary’s Baby and Antichrist which are the kind of comparisons this film is looking for, but even as nasty as those films got and how dark the world became as we started racing towards their respective climaxes, I never felt as put off by the choices made in those films as I did in this. Rosemary’s baby is a DARK and MISERABLE story, but it still convinces you that this is taking place in something resembling the real world. This film on the other hand is bleak to the point of absurdity and so the REAL HUMAN DRAMA feels undercut and manipulative; not dissimilar to how reality shows will pump up drama with camera tricks, selective editing, and music cues. I’m not saying a horror film shouldn’t exaggerate (if they couldn’t then like ninety percent of all gore effects would be strictly forbidden), but to what end are we exaggerating? Did I feel any particular insight was gained by letting these characters only exist when they are either completely isolated form the rest of the world or in unimaginable pain? Does it make sense that the house is in CONSTANT darkness; even when having dinner? Why do we see only ONE person reaching out to a support network and no one else? Actually there’s a REASON for that and it’s as obviously tragic as everything else in here. There’s no world outside of what can make these people more and more unhappy, and it’s a BORING world because of that. But wait! What if we’re not supposed to take things so literally!? What if isolation is part of the appeal like Antichrist or even Home from 2008? Even then, I think this movie is too ghoulish in terms of its imagery and even its plot points to really RESONATE, and I don’t think it’s paced effectively on top of that. You really need a build up to the horror and mayhem (both internally and externally), otherwise you peak early and then just mire in the muck for way too long. There’s not really any valleys of comfort to release the tension (or at least give the audience a gasp of fresh air) as it’s constantly so oppressive. Antichrist was pretty oppressive too, but there were moments of levity and calm in between the spikes of terror, and it effectively built to its climax. Here? Well, since it went so far into darkness right away and just sits there for so long, they have to go REALLY above and beyond to make the third act feel like any sort of escalation. I will give them credit that it’s INTRIGUING what happens and a lot of the creative imagery would be great in another film, but by the time we get to it I just can’t even appreciate it and it’s yet another layer of abject debasement that I simply could not enjoy it. Plenty of movies have done what this film is trying to do and does it much better, and while many of those films DO get a large amount of praise like The Witch, others like Lights Out barely make an impact. I can get why some people like it because plenty of people will focus in on something they like and see that reflected throughout the entire film, but the whole package for me was just a bad time and I can’t give it THAT much credit even if it does a few things right.
Speaking of which, are there parts of this movie that I GENUINELY consider good instead of just acknowledging that other people may like it? Well… I’d say they’re more wasted elements than good aspects of a bad film, but there are things that I found worth praising here. Like a lot of these movies that I hate but everyone loves; it has great production values. Seriously, the craftsmanship on display here is pretty jaw dropping if I wasn’t so sickened by what was happening on screen. Toni Collette gives a great performance in here which shouldn’t be surprising if you’ve seen her previous work (especially United States of Tara), but it’s good that this is getting her some mainstream buzz. If this dreadful nightmare will lead to her getting roles in more prominent movies then fine; and it’s also worth pointing out that Alex Wolff does a really good job of playing that kind of dead-eyed emotionlessness that many teenagers go through when they’re still absolutely petrified of showing emotions. Also, I like that there aren’t a lot of… tricks I guess? In a movie like this, they would have played up the paranoia more and had things happen that ONLY ONE CHARACTER could see, and sure that still happens from time to time here, but a body isn’t going to just disappear because a skeptical character looks for it. An awful experience is going to stick with the characters even if some new danger presents itself. Had this movie had a different tone that didn’t feel so… gleefully dour and maybe had some levity or hope this could have been a much more interesting examination of emotional scars and long lasting pains, but to be so unforgiving and to effectively shut out all aspects of humanity that DO exist such as compassion, forgiveness, and understanding, all this devolves into is misery, hatred, and nihilism. Nothing is good that can’t be taken away from you, nothing you do can stop others from being evil, and there’s nowhere to turn when things go badly. Especially in a time like this where hopelessness has become more and more pervasive, a movie that’s overriding theme (especially with the ending) is basically GIVE UP BECAUSE EVERYTHING IS AWFUL is not one that I can fucking endorse; even if it’s shot well and has a good cast.
I’m honestly tired of hating movies like this so I don’t know how much more venom I can generate for it (especially when compiling the year end lists) but this is probably even MORE abysmal than Mother even if the impact is dulled a bit because… well I’ve already SEEN Mother. I guess when the NEXT great soul crusher comes out I’ll be even more jaded then, or maybe it’ll be the one to finally break me as I contemplate reviewing cat videos for the rest of my life instead of seeing anything like these films again. Do not go see this. That’s my recommendation. I don’t even care if you like these kinds of movies; you’re still not getting a recommendation from me. Did you see Ocean’s 8 yet? Deadpool 2? Hell, did you bother to see Life of the Party? GO SEE THOSE INSTEAD! We’re gonna keep getting horror films even if you skip out on this one! Heck, that Friend Request sequel ACTUALLY looks intriguing, so don’t waste your time feeling MISERABLE for two hours (again, which is NOT the goal of good horror films), and enjoy yourself at something else! We can all use a bit more levity right now, right!?