“Hereditary”: A Spoiler-Free Review

Wow. Just wow. I heard that “Hereditary” was a hit at Sundance, and when I saw it with my sister and cousins late at night, I was blown away. It deserves its acclaim, for the most part.

The story begins with artist Annie Graham mourning the death of her estranged mother with her husband Steve and her two teenage kids, Peter and Charlie. After the funeral, supernatural and diabolical things begin to haunt the family and affect everyone for the worst, especially the already bizarre Charlie. In the meantime, Annie uncovers horrible secrets about her mother’s life that have devasting consequences for everyone involved.

My description makes the movie sound generic and vague, but that is anything but the case. Once again, I cannot get specific without divulging spoilers. What I can tell you is that this movie succeeds mostly because of its directing.

Ari Aster did a fantastic job setting up the atmosphere in “Hereditary.” Every scene and every shot feel tense, dramatic, claustrophobic, and uncomfortable even at its quietest moments. It always works because the actors are strong and human enough to be relatable in this unsettling domestic tragedy.

Speaking of which, at its heart, “Hereditary” is a story about how trauma and a past generation’s sins can destroy a family. That is an unsettling point that not many films, not even horror films, are willing to make because it can be a hard one to tell well. Fortunately, Aster directs it very well. The atmosphere he creates and the positive artistic decisions he makes make the domestic tragedy more believable.

To me, the stylistic claustrophobia is the most noteworthy artistic decision. To give an example to explain what I mean: In the opening scene, the camera zooms in on a realistic custom-made dollhouse in Annie’s workshop. The closer the camera zooms in the sooner the audience sees a person sleeping in the bed. At first, the viewer might think it’s a doll, but then, the person gets up from the bed and enters the hallway.
While that type of transition is not ever used again, many rooms in the house and sometimes the house itself are mostly shot like they’re part of that dollhouse that Annie is making. That uncanniness blurs the lines between fact and fiction so creepily and subtly that eventually, the line feels like it disappears entirely. Not so coincidently, that is a major plot point in this movie, which brings me to the not-so-great part in my opinion: the ending.

Without divulging spoilers, the way this film ends is scary but extremely weird in that its supernatural elements mostly stop making sense. The final sequence is edge-of-your-seat suspenseful and appropriately heart-rending for everyone involved up until its final moments. It’s difficult to explain without spoiling. But in a nutshell, the climax goes from being scary to being weird and confusing in a way that takes the viewers out of the moment and leaves them more confused than frightened.

Overall, “Hereditary” is a good horror movie with a talented director who knows how to create a horrifying atmosphere and tell a disturbing story. Even if it is not flawless, it still deserves all the attention it’s getting. I recommend any horror fan who wants horror of a higher caliber to check it out for themselves.

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