The first scene of Hereditary sets the tone for the film. A dreary lingering shot panning from a window looking out over the forest rotating onto a miniature mockup of the house where the film takes place. The overexerting sense of lingering dread, coupled with eerie symmetrical framing acts as the prelude for what you are about to witness. The issue with that is that the film never manages to deliver on that promise, taking an interesting premise and slowly spiralling it down the alley of predictability. Where it does make up for in that is that it is thrillingly acted, boasting an impressive cast led by the formidable Toni Collete accompanied by a vulnerable Alex Wolff.
The story of Hereditary is straightforward. We are thrown into the seemingly happy life of the Grahams, watching the mundane lives of an upper-middle-class American family, with Annie being the matriarch tormented by the ghosts of her past. The other members include the husband Steve, who is the glue that is holding the family together, Peter, the teenaged high schooler who is more into girls and drugs than education, and Charlie who is the youngest member and a slightly socially awkward child. The lives of these people are turned upside down by two deaths and the story unfolds from there. Hereditary is in the same vein as films like The Babadook and It Follows, taking a similar path into building up dread than outright scaring the nightmares out of you. These are story driven narratives which use a mix of atmosphere, characterisation and dialogues to establish the sense of fear as the audience sit down to be thrown right into the Graham household.
But Hereditary tries a technique that sets it apart and effectively polarizes its audiences
Hereditary rejects the faster pace of traditional contemporary horror films for a slow driven approach towards the story. The approach, adopted by prior films like The Witch, has the consequential possibility of boring the audience before a substantial turn to the story finds its way onto the screen. Hereditary falls through the same, with about half an hour of film finished before the event that sets off the rest of the film occurs. The primary aim looks to be to stress the audience in anticipation, to exhaust them before the lesser normal events start happening. The triumph of this film is that it succeeds in that way, for better or for worse is for you to decide. the audience is left tired by the time something happens, that the almost emotional paralysis makes the oncoming happenings seem more horrifying than they are. But that isn’t to say that it works throughout the film.
Ari Aster tackles the film with the confidence of a veteran. while minor hiccups here and there, his intentions and executions are there laid bare for the audience to grasp. his expertise in dealing with the subject, helps shape the film’s basic premise. From the looks of it, Aster knows all too well that horror films are far more than the flying monsters jumping at you. This particular sense broadens the film beyond its reach. His handling of themes far too ambitious for debutante directors, seemingly bites him in the foot, leaving his film with no room to breathe beyond its plot and without consideration of its audience.
But the film has a central story, and it is one of the most predictable horror stories on screen
regardless of what opinion one might have about the film’s technical aspect, It can be agreed upon that the story of hereditary verges of predictable, if not already. The stale plot followed by horror films before and will be followed by horror films after doesn’t offer the freshness of a Get Out or the suspense of The Witch. But this predictability serves the purpose of inviting you into the terror. Part of the film’s horror quotient comes from watching the family experience what we already know. This has a psychological effect, one that would be best compared to as knowing that your friend will die brutally in the next hour, and all you can do is stand by with the knowledge and the inability to prevent it. The method employed may be controversial, as a giant chunk of the audience may find this to be a run of the mill horror film parading itself as something better (as I myself did in my first viewing), and this effectively removes any element of surprise, which could disappoint traditional horror fans.
Part of the film’s dread also comes from the lingering cinematography. Imbued with exerting shots and with symmetry and drowned colours in every scene, each frame sends out a vibe of uneasiness that doesn’t stop until the final credits start rolling. Cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski enriches the film with aplomb levels of dread and permeating sadness, combining with its soundscape to provide a pragmatic sophistication usually lacking in horror films. Actress Toni Colette and Milly Shapiro steal the film with their portrayals, with Annie slowly falling into a trap of evil and death, the panic and desperation flowing through the face of Collete. Shapiro plays Charlie with a lack of emotional display that becomes more and more relevant by the end of the film, her attitude oozing with creepiness. Alex Wolff as the vulnerable and disturbed Peter is the anchor on which the film resides, effectively and efficiently portraying the spiral of the character into madness and slow horror. A cast this brilliant deserves the praise of equal manner. Their dynamics and moments, combined with their despicable characterizations help transcend the film beyond the uneasiness.
All said Hereditary will remain as one of the more polarizing horror films to come. Boring and uneventful on face value, Hereditary asks you to be invested and interpretive. I wouldn’t blame anyone who disagrees to do that, saying they wanted a low thinking more scary horror film, because the film, when it works does work brilliantly but also fails miserably at its points of weakness. But barring such oddities, Hereditary clamours onto you from the very first frame, refuses to let you go, exhausts you, unsettles you and breaks you to become more than the sum of its parts.
Jack of many trades, but a master of none. A businessman by profession, but a chef by heart, Dipanjan has his hands dirty with photography and photoshop. He would spend all his day sleeping if he could, and makes the same resolution of losing weight every year(but to no avail) . Also has two daughters, which are actually dogs, but sshhh we don’t tell him that.