Justin Peterson’s review published on Letterboxd:
A devastating tale of a families grim past manifesting itself into their absolute nightmare.
Hereditary has to be arguable one of the best debut features ever. Writer and Director Ari Aster did a fantastic job of weaving this terrifying film together by taking influence from Kubrick's 'The Shining', and 'Rosemary's Baby'.
So I am finally writing about this film after seeing it for a second time, because I wanted to watch it with some friends, which provided an interesting perspective. My sister claims to be a horror fan, but was so resistant about allowing herself to get emotionally invested in these characters because the story relentlessly gets worse and worse for them. On the other hand, I adore movies that provide this level of an emotional experience regardless of the outcome for the characters.
So when I watched this a few nights ago I found the style to be so captivating, and it does unfold in a very scary way. But I only gave it 4 1/2 stars for what I now see as very minor issues with an overall fantastic horror experience.
Here is a quick list of those issues:
- Alex Wolff gives an amazing performance, expect for that very over done sobbing he does after the seance
- Once Toni Collette character Annie becomes possessed, her flying around the room does look a little silly
- It is hard to know what to make of the Demon worshipping scene after a first watch
- Finally, the CGI on the flies in the attic was very noticeable. But I must say the sound design was great, because it really did sound like I had flies all around my room
So watching Hereditary a few days later, having listened to several analysis videos only increased my enjoyment of how Aster put so much little detail in plain sight. I would love to hear him talk about his thoughts on Kubrick, because his influence is undeniable here. First off you notice small touches like how he starts with a wide establishing shot, but then slowly zooms in to increase the tension. There are very slow fade transitions that often move us to a new setting, or to a shot a character's face as they are dealing with trauma.
There is also the great use of tracking the camera to the side, to give us this 3rd party prospective that moves throughout the house. The models that Annie works on takes Kubrick's use of the Hedge Maze from 'The Shining', to another level by showing even more instances where they characters just feel like little pieces in this elaborate game.
Aster also uses these sudden hard cut transitions, but instead of going to a title screen he moves us to either day/night time, or another location to create a jarring effect. The more I think about it now, that shot of Charlie's head out on the side of the road is very reminiscent to Kubrick's shot of Jack Nicholson's frozen corps. In rewatching that scene of Charlie's head, it is amazing to see how long he holds the shot, and you don't even notice the first time because of how overwhelming that twist is. The biggest element that is not present in this movie compared to 'The Shining', is a really memorable and chilling score.
Toni Collette delivers an incredible performance that is definitely worthy of an Oscar nomination, especially for that monologue she gives at the dinner table about no one taking responsibility for their actions. She also perfectly pulls off those long shots where her face is filled with absolute horror like when Wolff's character Peter's face is covered in ants, or when Gabriel Byrne's character Steve bursts into flames. Also his subtle even keeled approach to his performance is such an excellent contrast to Collette's hysterics. And wow how about that sequence with her hanging on the ceiling bashing her head into the attic door, and then floating on the ceiling while cutting off her own head ... so incredible and frightening!
Having gone thru near tragedy myself involving a car accent, Wolff's look of total shock and disbelief after his sister Charlie played by Milly Shapiro dies. Here we thought we were going to have this awkward little girl throughout the whole story, and then without warning she is suddenly ripped away. Among my favorite shots is when we see Peter laying in bed and we see that little glimmer of red in his eyes. While I was not a fan of his sobbing that I mentioned earlier, the part where he shrieks in horror after bashing his face in felt relatable and emotionally devastating.
It is staggering to see all the cult's subtle impressions in the story that you don't even notice at first. Their symbol is seen in so many places including grandmother's necklace and belongings, the telephone pole that decapitates Charlie, and of course during the demonic ceremonies in both the attic and tree house. Not to mention, the cult also scratching these strange words on the walls to further push their influence. I loved that great touch they included when Peter is smoking near his window, and you can see someone is watching him because their breath is just barely in frame. Be sure to check out You Tube for plenty of great analysis on all the little details that help build up to the demonic ritual at the end of the film.
It is not often when a horror movie makes me uneasy when I go to bed at night, but this certainly did. Hereditary is a horrific psychological cinematic experience that leaves you broken down emotionally and slightly confused, and that is what makes it among my favorite movies of 2018.
Thanks for reading!
Happy movie watching.... SKOL!