Now in my opinion, the horror genre is as tough to crack as comedy when trying to appeal to mass audiences. What people deem scary varies from one to the next, and how people perceive something as frightening is most often different. Sure, there are general concepts which are effective to a majority of people, but regardless something being scary is subjective. There are also two main types of delivery for the horror genre. Some films focus on building horror elements from a mental aspect, and others from a visual standpoint. With good genre films doing both.
Which I definitely think this film did. It focused on building fright from more of a mental side as the story dives into the layers of the characters. But there are moments of frightening imagery that I think were extremely well done. Our own imagination can scare us the most, and this film utilizes that and blends it with some ominous visuals. More than a simple horror film, this was a subtly tense, uneasy movie to watch. Primarily because of its uniqueness. It was methodical, and extremely foreboding. The story peels back the different family dynamics with intention. Which you are unsure of, and it creates genuine unpredictability, and intrigue.
This wasn’t a movie with in your face attempts at fear, or routine jump-scares that feel like a trip through a haunted house attraction on Halloween. It was a slow-paced delve into the dark history of a family. With thought-provoking elements and still imagery that give you enough to let your own imagination run wild. And it compliments that with some nicely crafted scenes that build on that fear effectively. Which is where I think this film will ride a fine line with audiences. When a movie isn’t laying its message right out there for the viewer, and some things are left to plug in on your own. I think the degree of how much is left for audiences to pick up on and decipher, various with everyone.
These types movies tend to be extremely divisive with fans. Take films like; ‘It Comes at Night’ or ‘The Witch’ for example. Some people are drawn into this style of story-telling and filmmaking, and some are not. I enjoyed ‘The Witch’ very much, and ‘It Comes at Night’ was a miss for me, so it’s can always go one way or the other, and for me ‘Hereditary’ was a success. It creeped me out by developing a story that got my mind wandering, and it spiked the tension with some visually uneasy scenes. But I do think it was longer than it needed to be. Just over two-hours for this story seemed a bit unnecessary.
There were some repetitive scenes that could have been tightened up. There were some moments of methodical, slow panning camera work that worked effectively in building eeriness. But there were also some moments that could have been trimmed back as they didn’t do much to bolster implications we already know of from prior scenes. So, despite a strong opening and closing act, the middle of the film felt overly long even though there were some intense moments sprinkled in. For me it wasn’t a major issue, primarily because of the fantastic performances.
In particular from Toni Collette who I think completely killed it in this role. She was so immersed into this role and it created an interesting character that had many unpredictable elements to her. There were many layers to her personality, many unknowns, and with her grounded delivery I was compelled to learn more about her. Collette was intense when needed. She was very charming at times, very sinister during others, and she was able to pour more than enough depth into this character. She hit some powerfully emotional moments with ease, and for what this film needed I think Toni Collette was perfectly casted and delivered a performance worthy of award consideration.
Milly Shapiro as young Charlie was great as well. She was able to pull off the feeling of a normal innocent kid, but at the same time she was able to switch seamlessly to a darker more sinister personality, but in an understated way, which I found very intriguing. Gabriel Byrne made the most out of a formulaic role. He didn’t have much impact on things but he’s a veteran of the business and certainly added some life and emotion to the character. I think Alex Wolff was great as well. He had some emotional intense scenes that land with impact and he was a great addition to the film as well, pouring a lot of heart into the character.
Overall, I enjoyed what Ari Aster did from a writing and directorial aspect and with this being his first full-length film I’m excited to see where he goes from here. The story showed thought and intent. It knew what it wanted to be, and it never lost its focus despite being a little slow at times. The visual aspect of the film was great with a methodical approach to the camera techniques that felt perfect for the tone of the story-line. The lighting and set-design were all nicely done it has a polished, very capable feel, but it also has a grim, cold tone to it that I really like. It was a very suspenseful story with strong moments of mystery and together these dynamics result in some effective horror moments. That are without question bolstered by some great performances lead by an excellent one from Collette.