After the demise of her reclusive mother, Annie Graham and her family begin a stomach-lurching free-fall into the emotionally clammy clutches of a dysfunctional living hell.
From the playfully ambiguous opening shot onwards it is clear that Hereditary has zero qualms in using arch cinematic devices to manipulate the viewer. Fluctuating between enthralling and intimate Mike Leigh inspired realism and creepy Peter Greenaway style absurdity the film frequently dips out of precise focus and may well prove a patience-testing watch for many.
Hereditary is definitely guilty of tonal unevenness and an over-reliance on hackneyed tropes yet it succeeds as a horror flick despite itself thanks to the thick globules of genius that fleck its ambitious chops.
Anyone familiar with the director’s previous work will know of his propensity for taboo-busting and there are many moments here that will impact and punish the audience, specifically parents.
A meticulously constructed accident sequence, replete with a mischievously hideous reveal, triumphs and throws down a cheeky gauntlet to the Final Destination franchise.
Shocking imagery pervades Hereditary like a degenerative disease permeating the very bones of the carefully closeted skeletons and each tentative glimpse into the eyes of the impending evil becomes exponentially more fraught.
The nerve-frazzling score from Colin Stetson is a technical marvel and is the organic master key that unlocks the films ability to rattle and emotionally grip the audience. Beautifully evocative brassy cues and effusive loops conjure the heady days of classic orchestral horror soundtracks before morphing into a rabid reverberating chaos that perfectly mirrors the on-screen descent into madness.
However, the ride is not entirely smooth as Ari Aster struggles to grasp the reins of this runaway thoroughbred of a horror flick and the cramp of excess sets in.
These frustrations are almost endearing in their idiosyncrasy. For every well-judged tongue pop inspired jolt, there is a crappy Mysteron torch effect. For every exquisitely delivered monologue of heartbreaking family dysfunctionality, there is a guffaw-inducing bout of hysterical expositional melodrama. For every subtle shot of dread injected under the skin, there is a ridiculously signposted example of narrative spoonfeeding. And so on……
Although the overall tone is bleakly baroque and treacherously surreal, the humour, intentional or otherwise, is so overtly back-loaded that the admittedly bat-shit climax seems more desperate than devastating.
By the director’s own admission he made his first feature a horror film because that is the easiest genre to get financed. To an extent that is exactly the problem with many of the recent wave of intellectual horror flicks such as It Comes at Night and The Babadook, and the root cause of their consequent divisiveness.
Shoe-horning a weighty emotional agenda and broad existential concepts into the relatively confined space of a generic horror template creates more artistic problems than it solves. More crucially, promoting the project from a horror slanted perspective, for lucrative financial motivations, misrepresents the overall content and breeds resentment amongst genre savvy fans. Worse still it opens the veins to a vicious strain of pretentious elitism that the voracious immune system of the horror community strives to suppress with justified venom.
Hereditary serves more as a cynical and derivative genre shrine than a towering monument to the obvious talent of Ari Aster. A misdemeanour the controversial director will surely correct with his next endeavour when he takes on Scandinavian folk horror with apocalyptic breakup movie Midsommer.
In defiance of the films explicit shortcomings, it is a unique viewing experience to witness this inscisive dissection of grief management masquerading as a possession flick.
Essentially a penetrating study of the frailties of family ties in the face of blame and mistrust it demands a viewing, even out of curiosity, and you may just unmask and adopt your new favourite horror movie.
Bradley Hadcroft | [rating=4]
Drama, Horror, Mystery | USA, 2018 | 127 mins | – Strong threat, gory images, language, drug misuse | Entertainment Film Distributors |CINEMA. UK 15th June 2018| USA 8th June 2018 | Dir. Ari Aster| Cast. Toni Collette, Milly Shapiro, Gabriel Byrne