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Film Review: Hereditary

22 June 18 words: Natalie Mills

The best horror film of the year, or yet another movie that fails to live up to the hype? Natalie Mills gives her verdict on the horror film everyone is talking about... 

Director: Ari Aster

Starring: Toni Collette, Milly Shapiro, Gabriel Byrne

Running time: 127 mins

CLUCK – it’s the sound of the most overhyped horror movie of the year. When Hereditary is good, it is so good. The film has some of the most disturbing horror imagery I have ever seen. There are scenes that haunt you, a week after watching, as you turn off your bedroom light. It is passionately acted, painstakingly directed, and has a roaring soundtrack worthy of Suspiria. I wanted to love Hereditary, and for a while, I did.

In case you’ve somehow avoided the trailer, Hereditary begins with the death of Ellen Leigh. One strange old lady, her death seems to be a release for her daughter Annie (Toni Collette). “Should I be sadder?” she asks her stoic husband Steve, while teenage son Peter just wants to get high and get laid. Only weird little Charlie (Milly Shapiro) seems to miss the grip Ellen had over them, clucking and making her witchy totems. In her local grief circle, Annie reveals the awful ways her father and brother died. At home, she finds a cryptic note from her mother and a book on spiritualism. We wonder if the thing she sees in the dark is just her bottled up rage. The first part of the film allows your imagination to do the work, and that can often be more frightening.

Aster builds a sense of creeping dread and tension between the family members, in a Babadook sort of way. It is a shame that the film peaks, at least for me, too early. The most horrifying moment happens less than an hour into the film. It’s an absolute belter. There was actually an audible gasp from the audience. The scene is effective in its stark, devastating reality and the excruciating aftermath directly afterwards. You’re left wondering where the hell the film is going to go next. Maybe Aster was too, from the look of things.

The race to the end lacks subtlety on an almost biblical scale.

My problem with Hereditary – and horror is the most subjective of genres, so go make your own mind up – is that it feels like two films. Or rather, the first bit feels like its own film, and the rest feels like lots of other films. This could turn into a rant about how Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist and The Wicker Man did it better.

Once it waded into tropes and look-at-me literalism, I felt a bit cheated of my ambiguous psychological metaphor film. Some of the supernatural effects are just not on point, and it all starts to feel a bit silly. Why did nobody bother to look in the spooky expositional book earlier? The race to the end lacks subtlety on an almost biblical scale. You do not need to look into the cradle of Rosemary’s baby – that sort of ruins it. The direction the film goes is a surprise, but whether you’re thrilled or disappointed depends on your mileage.

There is plenty in Hereditary to make it worth seeing. The set and camerawork are stunning, adding to the feeling of an unfolding nightmare you cannot escape. When the threat lies in the rotten heart of the grieving Graham family itself, it really works. Their unleashed guilt and resentment ranges from the “All I get back is that fucking face on your face!” outburst from an Oscar-worthy Collette, to poor Peter (Alex Wolff) sobbing, “I saw Charlie in the corner, and then you tried to pull my head off!” Many details of the film are brilliant – and anyone who says it isn’t scary is lying – but it doesn’t live up to the hype. Have fun trying to sleep.

Did you know? To achieve the look of a giant dollhouse and to get perfect shots, the interiors of the Graham home were built from scratch. This fits with both Annie’s hobby of making dioramas, and her loss of control.

Hereditary is screening at Broadway Cinema until Thursday 28 June

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