Hereditary: the good, not so good and the weird

I went to see Hereditary and decided to share my views on it with you.

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If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume that you have either seen the film or don’t intend to. For that reason, I’m not going to hold back on talking about the whole film so consider yourself warned.

The Good in Hereditary

Hereditary falls into that category of a horror film if you like actual horror films. What do you mean by “actual” horror films Kieran? I hear you ask.

Simple, if you’re watching a movie that isn’t reliant on jump scares then you’re watching an actual horror film.

Hereditary is one of those films.

That’s not to say that there are no jumps. The person I was with told me that I jumped on several occasions, who am I to argue? The point is that the jumps in Hereditary are well integrated into the plot. Integrated scares make for a more enjoyable experience.

I’m not a fan of the Paranormal Activity films for that reason. The reaction that you have to them is physiological. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a Pixies song. Paranormal Activity films are quiet, quiet, loud. You can’t control your reaction. If I whisper continuously in your ear and sporadically shout as well, you’re going to be on edge.

What I liked about Hereditary is that when the scares were coming, it was built up. You were expecting the scare.

When the moments arrive, it is a release of tension.

Cinematography

I loved how this film used cinematography to create the creepy atmosphere.

There are many long shots at wide angles on static cameras.

The lighting is effective. Mainly when there may or not be something lurking in the shadow. There is a moment towards the end, it’s a shot of someone smiling through a doorway. The low light makes it creepy because you’re struggling to see and your mind fills in the gaps.

You can consider it high praise when I kept hoping that they used the style more.

Acting

The acting in this film is high quality. Gabriel Byrne does well as the put-upon father whose family is falling apart. Alex Wolff does confused and afraid well.

The stand out performance is from Toni Collette who carries the majority of the film.

What is it with horror being an excellent genre for female performers?

Don’t forget that Collette did one of the most excellent “listening” scenes in history right at the end of The Sixth Sense.

In Hereditary she has such a nuanced role. Is she losing her mind or is there really a demonic cult trying to get to her son?

There is a great scene where she talks about how she used to sleepwalk and almost set her children on fire. Her delivery injects so much uncertainty that you don’t know if she is telling the truth or not.

There is also a scene where she is at group therapy and tells her family backstory. She goes through an emotional journey, and you believe that journey.

This film is an excellent showcase for Toni Collette. You probably think that horror films have cheesy acting, but Collette’s commitment elevates the subject.

The not so good

Spirit Mediums

I’m not a big fan of films that rely on spirit mediums to further the plot. It’s a matter of personal taste. Hereditary had one, I’m not a fan. It took up a substantial portion of the midsection.

Getting there and then dealing with the aftermath. I wish that Ari Aster, the writer and director, had gone for something a little less conventional.

You might think that I’m missing the point. That the whole idea of the spirit medium is subverted. It was part of the cult’s plan, but it wasn’t differentiated enough for my liking.

Could lose 10-20 minutes

Hereditary is two hours long. It could have cut about ten to twenty minutes, and I don’t think we would have lost too much. Especially when there are a few scenes of people watching each other. This had already been established by this point. You don’t need to repeat your points.

Hereditary also features a dream sequence. Doesn’t matter what genre you are working in doesn’t have dream sequences. Nothing makes me think that you are padding the runtime quite like a dream sequence. Hereditary is an even worse offender because it’s a dream within a dream. There are also some interesting dramatic questions raised in the dream. These questions could have been integrated into the main plot.

Soundtrack

Hereditary’s soundtrack is excellent. There were a few moments where it became overbearing.

There is a moment of ADR  that is done so badly “Make sure everyone is in the same room house” it stuck out like a sore thumb.

Ambiguous about ambiguity

The film tends to have its cake and eat it in some instances of ambiguity. Are the events happening or is it all in her head? If Hereditary could have been a bit more sure of itself and picked a lane.

Had the events of Hereditary unfolded from Gabriel Byrne’s POV it may have worked better. Just a thought.

I would have enjoyed the ambiguity even further if they cut the film off a little earlier. Instead, the last minute of the film is an exposition dump.

“Oh my mother made mats like this”

The majority of the film has good dialogue that deals with character. So when this line is uttered it’s almost as if someone walks out, looks at the screen and says, “I wonder where this is going?”

This line and the last minute of the film are the only real bad moments of dialogue.

The weird

Hereditary is concerned a demon that is born into a girls body but desires to be reborn into a boys body. The girl is killed, and the rest of the film is about how the demon strives to be reincarnated into the boy’s body. The process destroys the family.

Could you view the film as a metaphor for transsexualism?

This is part of the reason why I love horror so much. It deals with social themes in an extreme way.

I hope you will consider checking this film out at some point even if you don’t like horror as it is worth a watch.

As far as “actual” horror films go, I still think that It Follows is the one to beat. Hereditary is a definite contender, and I look forward to Ari Aster’s next film.

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