"Hereditary" (2018)- Movie Review

Written and Directed by Ari Aster
Starring Toni Collette, Milly Shapiro and Gabriel Byrne

‘A Terrifying Thriller’

Before I begin this review, I must admit that I am not a fan of horror movies. For some reason, I have never gravitated towards films that attempt to scare the viewer. With their stereotypical characters, bloody violence and implausible plots, these films are often excruciating to watch. Although there is no denying the entertainment value these films offer, they are clearly not meant for everyone. With the exception of a few, out-of-the-ordinary gems (ex. “A Quiet Place”), the films of this genre have never impressed me.

Although horror movies are not my cup of tea, Ari Aster’s latest film “Hereditary” truly blew me away. A terrifying thriller, it is one of those rare horror films that works on nearly every level. With his directorial debut, writer/director Ari Aster has crafted a frightening film about a family dealing with loss. The film has all the elements of a typical horror movie: supernatural themes, frightened children and plenty of jump scares. Yet, it works mainly due to the sharp screenplay and fantastic performances from the cast. Although it is not for the faint of heart, “Hereditary” is a hauntingly effective horror movie that sticks with you long after the credits roll.

Set in modern-day America, “Hereditary” focuses on a family that is haunted by the loss of it’s head matriarch. Toni Collette stars in the lead role as Annie, a grief-stricken woman coping with her mother’s death. When Annie discovers dark secrets of her family’s past, her life begins to spiral out of control. It sets into motion a series of disastrous events that threaten to tear her family apart.

It is then that we are swept into the gloomy world of a family haunted by apparitions, ghosts and the death of loved ones.

Due to director Ari Aster’s meticulous attention to detail, it all comes together perfectly. Although “Hereditary” is his first feature film, Aster shows immense skill and talent behind the camera. His skills as a filmmaker really come through in the film’s visuals. The film is beautifully shot using breathtaking cinematography. From intense close-ups to gorgeous establishing shots, the cinematography plays a significant role in the film. Not only does it grab the viewer’s attention, but it creates an atmosphere of dread and tension. Through these captivating visuals, Aster draws the viewer into the film’s setting. One of the main reasons why the film is so scary is because of its stunning visuals.

However, to simply call “Hereditary” a scary horror movie would be an understatement. Although the movie has been advertised as a typical horror movie, it surprisingly isn’t. Instead, it is a family drama with elements of horror. At its core, it’s a film about a family dealing with issues of grief and loss. The screenplay, written by Ari Aster, pays great attention to character development. Each member of the family is given a compelling backstory. Through the course of the film, we get to know the family and become emotionally invested in their lives. “Hereditary” is one of those rare horror movies that aims not only to scare the viewer, but give them a reason to care for the characters.

In terms of acting, it is hard to not marvel at the brilliant performances from the cast. Horror movies often pose challenges for actors and are demanding to film. However, in this case the actors are fully committed and keep you invested in the lives of the characters.

Toni Collette is unforgettable in the role of a grieving mother struggling to raise her family. It’s an emotionally draining role that requires the actress to go to dark places, but she manages to do it justice. With haunting expressions, she conveys the pain, anguish and grief of a woman coping with loss. Despite the demanding nature of the role, Collette commands every scene she is in and is at times terrifying to watch. It is a remarkable performance from one of the finest actresses working today. Although horror movies are rarely ever up for awards, Collette deserves to be recognized for her work come awards season.

The supporting cast is excellent and also worthy of recognition. Alex Wolff is captivating in the role of the guilt-ridden son. Gabriel Byrne is fantastic as the reluctant father who refuses to believe in the supernatural. And finally, Milly Shapiro sends shivers down your spine as the creepy daughter of the family.

Although “Hereditary” is undeniably scary, it is not quite the masterpiece that critics have made it out to be. If I had a minor issue with the film, it would be the lengthy running time. At a little over two hours, the movie is slightly long and overstays its welcome. The first hour or so is riveting and kept me at the edge of my seat, but the final thirty minutes are dragged. Viewers looking for an action-packed thrill ride may be disappointed, because this isn’t that type of film. Instead, it is a slow-paced horror film that takes its time to unfold.

On a final note, it is worth mentioning that “Hereditary” is a film that may not please everyone. Due to its dark and disturbing subject matter, it may be too difficult to watch for some viewers. If you are easily turned off by the sight of violence, then this film may not be for you.

Nevertheless, fans of the horror genre will definitely enjoy “Hereditary” and so will anyone willing to watch it. Is it the scariest horror movie of the year? Quite possibly, yes. It left me shaken, stirred and unable to sleep for days on end. That rarely ever happens, and may be the greatest achievement for any horror movie.

4/5 stars

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