I do not hate, or dislike, Hereditary. I do not like it either, though I do avidly admire it. To clarify, it is difficult for me to say I like a movie that is so atmospherically dour, so tonally bleak, and so disturbingly grotesque, that makes me feel like I need to bathe in molten lava to burn away the residue of it. However, it’s easy for me to say I admire nearly everything about it.
The same can be said for similarly dark and bleak cinematic ventures like Sicario, You Were Never Really Here (my current vote for the best film of 2018), and Annihilation, to name a trio. Hereditary is as joyless an experience as they come, which makes it inherently difficult to for me recommend to friends of mine whose humongous appetites for horror are in desperate need of some quenching. This isn’t your archetypal, audience friendly and accessible popcorn horror flick one could take a date to and enjoy being scared from, complete with ample cheap or earned jump scares (such as The Conjuring), or heaps of deliciously over the top gory carnage (like in The Cabin in the Woods). I don’t find Hereditary scary per se, just unsettling and disturbing, much like iconic but hollow The Shining.
It is however, the kind of intricate, meticulously crafted psychological horror movie that uptight horror cinema snobs are constantly reminding the rest of us that Hollywood so rarely constructs and releases these days. Nearly every facet of the movie, from the performances (Toni Collette is truly Oscar worthy with her passionately raw performance of a fractured soul) to the cinematography to the editing to the eerie sound design, is handled with top notch laser guided precision worthy of the heaps of praise it’s received for months now since its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 21st. It might not be the best horror movie of the year (which is easily A Quiet Place by miles), or the best movie of the year for that matter (that’d be a huge stretch, considering that honour should most definitely be bestowed upon You Were Never Really Here), but it’s certainly a great little horror picture in its own right.
As great as those and other elements are, the movie becomes dreadfully problematic in the script department after the initial 45 minutes or so. Initially, the movie has absolutely no problem both setting and maintaining a particular psychological horror aura, which is rather sadly, gradually pushed to the side after a major event in the first half hour of the movie, in favour of typical paranormal horror elements. This leads to an ending (that will go unspoiled here), that despite being set-up right from scene one onward, and makes sense to the overarching narrative that’s been told leading up to that point, feels ported over from The Witch (another horror release by the same studio that produced Hereditary, A24), and that doesn’t match the tone of everything that’s come beforehand, and requires one too many suspensions of disbelief in the laughably ludicrous twists. Aside from the tonality issues derived from an unnatural shift in the tone at the midway point in the movie, and a nearly unforgivably ridiculous tacked on ending that doesn’t gel with the rest of the movie, Hereditary is a masterful psychological horror movie bound for the glory of classic horror movie status, though those tonality and ending issues will likely haunt it for decades to come.
As I observed in an article I can’t recall the source of a couple of days ago regarding Hereditary, it’s the “other kind” of horror film, the meticulously crafted, bleak, and unrewarding kind, a rare find these days. The film studio A24 (whom released Hereditary, The Witch, and It Comes At Night), along with Paramount (who’ve also had divided reaction with mother, Annihilation, and the Cloverfield series) and others, seem passionately keen on continuing to churn out these more obscure and psychologically perplexing and taxing horror movies.
I don’t blame them for wanting to.