15th Jun2018

‘Hereditary’ Review

by Alain Elliott

Stars: Toni Collette, Milly Shapiro, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, Christy Summerhays, Morgan Lund, Mallory Bechtel, Jake Brown, Jarrod Phillips, Ann Dowd, Brock McKinney | Written and Directed by Ari Aster


Opening just one week ago in America (and creating a lot of buzz before this at its Sundance midnight showing), Hereditary has been talked about as one of the scariest movies ever! So you can imagine how excited I was to see it.

Hereditary is a film I really don’t want to spoil for anyone and it is definitely a film that is best seen when you know very little about the actual story. So I will keep this part brief. We follow a family whose grandmother has recently passed away. Shortly after the funeral a number of tragic incidents occur, leading the family to grieve in very different ways.

Hereditary shows a very distinct style from literally its first second. In the opening scene the camera moves slowly from one side of the room to the other before focusing on its main topic. Whilst there is nothing on screen at all that should be scary, the way it is shot coupled with the musical score, creates something that somehow creeps you out without any obvious horror content.

So a bit more about the score. This was for me one of the key components of this movie. Horror musical scores have had a bit of a resurgence in the last ten years and this sits right alongside classic horror music of the past and present. Composer Colin Stetson does an expert job, sometimes creating tension and scares when you’d think what’s on screen wouldn’t scare you at all. It is such an important reason this is one of the best and most unnerving movies I have seen in a very long time.

Second to the score is the cinematography. It is breathtaking at times. Using slow panning shots, close-ups, unmistakable architecture and a great use of mini models (that become part of the story), this is an original style of camera work and makes Hereditary depressingly beautiful. It looks phenomenal but does it in such a bleak way.

Although there are a couple of (almost) standard jump scares, this is not what Hereditary is about. It is about making you feel on edge, tense and just pit-of-your-stomach sick and it does this on many occasions. This aren’t simple scenes done in slightly different ways either. The range from two people having an intense argument, to horrific injuries, to fantastic reveals of something you can hear and are desperate to see (or maybe not see!). Two or three times, I literally forgot to take a breath for an entire scene. I only realised when the film cut to the next scene. There was also a couple of moments when I realised I was holding my own hand way to tightly! This is what Hereditary does to you! In the screening I was at, there was a few laughs from the audience but it was definitely that kind of nervous laughter. The laugh or giggle people make when they are scared and are not quite sure how to react to what they are witnessing.

Performances are great to. It’s perhaps no surprise that experienced actors Toni Collette and Gabriel Byrne are so good in the lead roles. Showing good chemistry as a married couple and Byrne in particular managing to stay likeable and the most grounded of the characters. I think most people will be able to relate to him. On the other hand, Collette plays the slightly unstable mother and someone you never quite work out. Is she good? Is she bad? Is she both? You may have just about answered that questions by the time the credits roll. Newcomer Milly Shapiro plays her role to perfection, garnering plenty of sympathy as the daughter. And finally, the realatively inexperienced Alex Wolff as the son, puts in perhaps the performance of the whole film. His reactions (like the rest of the cast) might seem a little over the top at times but they are realistic and natural and perfect for the trauma that they are all going through.

Hereditary really is a horror film like nothing you have seen before. Despite the last thirty minutes or so becoming more familiar to horror fans, it does this in a completely new way. It has had comparisons with movies like Get Out, It Follows, The Witch and The Babadook but it stands out all on its own. A genre film about grieving that will stick with you long after seeing it.

***** 5/5

Hereditary is in UK cinemas now.


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