Hereditary ★★★½

Hereditary is the feel-bad horror hit of the summer. Thanks to A24's hype train consisting of a series of spoilerific trailers, I am for the umpteenth time frustrated with the intersection of marketing and art. The trailer had superlative praise and comparisons to decades old classic horror films, the catchy little mouth click thing (which was bound to be imitated by bored teenagers at your screening ad nauseum), and the smash cut highlight reel of almost all of the most visually harrowing moments in the film. Then when it's actually time to sit down and watch the movie, 70% of the spontaneity has been sucked out of the experience. Fortunately there are a few surprises that didn't worm their way into the promotional aspects of the film, but it really seems that after the lukewarm reception of It Comes at Night A24 was banking hard on getting another runaway success like The VVitch.

To get right to the point, if you like The VVitch and/or It Comes at Night, you will probably dig this film. I say "dig" because it's not really a film to enjoy so much as experience, and I mean that in the worst way possible. This movie is miserable, a distillation of every negative emotion state and inclination. It is universally resonant in portraying some of the worst aspects of family, specifically motherhood, in no small part due to the focus on Toni Collette's matriarch. After her estranged mother's passing, a pervasive, supernatural ennui follows her family and degrades their well-being. I won't say much more than that, but most of the film I was watching all of this unfold through my fingers. It's disturbing and gross and depressing, easily giving Darren Aronofsky a run for his money in that regard.

The justification for the experience of horror in many lesser films is for the sake of shocking imagery and the ephemeral audience reaction. In the finer entries of this genre, the horror is there to highlight a deeper level of philosophical or conceptual sophistication that parallels or comments on the darkness, dread, and anguish we see on screen. The clear intent of Hereditary is to point at how grief can tear families apart or bring them together (they literally point this out in dialogue). It's also about how motherhood can inspire an instinctual nurturing love, or it can end up exhausting the woman and causing severe depression, despondency, and even resentment towards her own child. These concepts are there, but they are always playing second fiddle to the supernatural proceedings, a mystery that, when resolved, doesn't really bring any closure or insight into these dynamic ideas. It's an appreciable attempt, but ultimately people looking for entertaining horror schlock will be bored while those looking for a complex emotional study will be underwhelmed.

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