Hereditary ★★★★½

The feature length debut for writer/director Ari Aster has been a veritable machine for hype, getting rave reviews left and right and making a reputation for itself as a modern Horror masterpiece. It's a hell of a claim, so needless to say I was both very excited and very nervous about seeing if the film lived up to the hype.

Well, it does. By and far, it proves itself as a fantastic and unnerving film at every turn. The second half of the year may yet hold some competition for it, but as of right now this is undoubtedly king of the Horror hill for 2018.

The trailers for the film, while certainly showing some key shocking scenes, did a great job of giving away basically nothing about how this film would play out. In fact I noticed a few instances of things from the trailers that were changed or outright not in the film, so even though I went in with no clue what to expect, I felt even further off balance as things started to play out. Which is great. I will not spoil anything, I will not hint at anything. I suggest everyone just watch the movie blind.

What I will say is how surprised I am at how well this film plays at being smart while also being digestible. There are a million small details, clues, foreshadowing, symbols, etc. throughout that make this a film I am undoubtedly sure will get better with successive watches; but it also feels clear with its underlying meaning, which is coupled with a finale that is curiously traditional in its execution. You could take the entire feature at face value and leave with a satisfying story in mind. There are films I could easily think to compare it to but I will not name them as it simply says too much.

The cast nails it, with a couple particular standout showings. Toni Collette stars as the mother of the family at the heart of the film, and frankly the bulk of this movie is her movie. Her emotional range, her mannerisms and the way she captures the essence of a woman having a mental breakdown are astounding. There are too many powerful scenes under her belt to even single one out. She is captivating, disturbing, and devastating throughout and though genre films are so rarely favored by major awards, a lack of nomination for her this year would be a slap in the face. Milly Shapiro plays the young daughter of the family, and I commend her and the director to committing to the eerie nature of the character. She is strange and off putting, and leaves a strong mark on the film being that this is her feature film debut. Rounding out the family are Gabriel Byrne (the father) and Alex Wolff (the son) who both give solid performances. Byrne has a fair amount less screen time than the rest, but brings a strong foundation to the lineup when he appears, and has one touching scene I really liked. Wolff is much more involved in the plot, and though I largely liked him (again a couple scenes stand out where he delivers some very demanding emotional output through his expressions) I did have some hang-ups with his role at times. I can't rightly yet say how much was him and how much was the writing, but there is a certain weakness to his character that made it feel as though he should've been younger, and at times his physical reactions felt subdued compared to his vocal and emotional output. It's one of very few things that didn't feel right to me.

Visually, Hereditary is nothing short of stunning. The house set is wonderful, spacious and expansive, and the way the camera drifts and pans across and through it, alluding to the miniature aspect of Collette's character, is perfect. There are some nice, telling close ups that draw focus to the character's emotion, often manipulating the viewer's expectation on what they're going to see in the coming moment. It carefully moves, leading you to something terrifying, only showing it when emotion is drawn out to its highest level. Scenes are often framed widely, allowing the overbearing shadows of the house to draw in the eye, to much reward as several scenes feature secrets and figures hiding about. The editing is also fantastic, with a few memorable overlay fades, but also my personal favorite, the sharp, clean quick cuts. The tightness and timing of the cuts is hair thin, splicing night and day like a light switch. It's only enhanced further by some wonderful sound design, triggering cuts and scares with little to no buildup. There are a lot of wonderful ambient sounds as well, and a particular sound effect that plays a key role in the film that gets used so effectively, I honestly found myself afraid of hearing it hours later as I lay in bed. The score is equally haunting, a combination of crescendoing drones and circling, jangling rhythms. The score itself also serves as an effective means to project certain secrets in the film, certain sounds and moments indicating things relevant to the film's mythology. I did have a small issue, which I can't rightly say was part of the movie itself yet, which was a bit of distortion with some of the dialogue early in the film (making some lines sound more distant than necessary). Everything else sounded normal and I don't recall keying in on it later, but it's something I'd have to confirm with a rewatch.

My final thoughts, which again I will keep vague, are that I took a minor issue with part of the final moments of the film. Personally, I think that the dialogue felt a bit overdone and dated given the kind of comparisons to other films you could make for this one. Maybe it'll grow on me, as I like the scene itself and all the concepts. Honestly I think it gets its point across completely without the dialogue at all.

So I came out with a few nitpicks, but some are things that may simply go away with successive watches, and I am already quite certain that the film will benefit from that regardless. I'm very much looking forward to seeing it again to look for things that I missed or didn't pick up on in the first place. So while I can't quite give this a perfect score out the gate, I would not at all be surprised if it turns into one in the future. As someone who watches Horror films as often as I do, a movie that can make me wake up in the middle of the night in a sweat, looking for something that may or may not be standing in the corner, is special.

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