Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd, Gabriel Byrne
Director: Ari Aster
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2:1
Features: See Review
Length: 127 Minutes
Release Date: September 4, 2018
ďYou tried to kill me!Ē
ďNo, I love you!Ē
ďWhy did you try to kill me?Ē
ďI didnít! I was trying to save you!Ē
Before settling in to write my review of Hereditary, I did something Iíve never done in my 20-plus years of film criticism. I actually sought out other reviews to read. I looked at everything, from nationally known reviewers to web blurbs.
Itís not that I was looking for something to stealÖI was curious about approaches. I saw the movie theatrically and loved it, and couldnít wait to sit down for a second viewing. But I found myself kind of at a loss as to how to write about it.
Normally, if I want to avoid spoilers, itís not that hard. But with this film, avoiding talking about the key points that should be left for surprises leaves me in a position where I might appear to be describing a totally different movie than what this one actually is, which is one of the best horror movies of the millennium.
I was surprised at how many other writers cared little about exposing major plot details, when the best approach for Hereditary is to know as little as possible going in. The original trailer did a good job of being intriguing without revealing, so now that burden falls on me.
I will say I hope Hereditary is a continuing sign of a new trend in modern horror, following in the footsteps of The Witch. Instead of sensationalism, we get story; instead of chaos, we get character. Itís the kind of movie that touches on so many real points of family drama that you can be forgiven if you momentarily forget youíre watching a horror film.
It begins with an amazing camera shot, and a funeral. A family matriarch has just passed away, leaving her daughter Annie (Collette) the uneasy task of trying to summarize the mysterious womanís life in a eulogy. Sheís there with her husband Steve (Byrne), teenage son Peter (Wolff) and daughter Charlie (Shapiro).
Annie is an artist known for creating miniatures of houses, places, and events, and is working on her next show. But the death of her mother seems to cast a pall over her and her children. Charlie is certainly an unsettling little girl with a severe nut allergy. Peter seems more interested in his weed and slacking off. Yet more tragedy is in store for this family.
The sadness of family relationships fraying is on full display here, but the emotion of close people losing their ability to relate to one another becomes the canvas for a strange and terrifying tale as old secrets begin to come to the surface, and plans and purposes that were hatched long before are starting to come to fruition.
ThereÖthatís about as much as I dare go intoÖand Iím sad I havenít really conveyed what a brilliant movie this is on so many levels. Writer/director Ari Aster has taken a family drama and used horror as his palate. The film startles, horrifies, bristles with grief and ultimately rattles to the core. I knew when I first saw it that I had to see it again. The breadcrumbs were there, and I wanted to trace them.
The film is astonishingly acted, particularly in the work of Ms. Collette and Mr. Wolff. Collette reportedly didnít want to do another intense movie for awhile, but when given this script, she knew she couldnít pass it up.
Overall, the movie begs the question: what is horror? Is it the supernatural, with forces we canít comprehend lining up against us? Or is it the simple matter of families ripping at old wounds and coming to pieces? Perhaps when one influences the other, you have a unique formula that transcends all boundaries of terror. Hereditary is just that.
This 4K Ultra HD presentation from Lionsgate is astounding; offering many types of lighting and settings, but particularly strong in the lower lit environments. Colors range from bright and natural to extreme, but all images come across with superb clarity.
Sound is crucial in horror, and this uncompressed surround track delivers the goods. Most of the power is in the subtlety. This is not the loud, overpowering track that makes you scream for mercy, but rather an understated one, with surprising dynamic range when called for. The music is also a plus (I was lucky enough to pick up the soundtrack on vinyl, signed by composer Colin Stetson). A real treat all around!
The extras include three short featurettes and some deleted scenes (and one Easter egg, that Iíve found).
Hereditary is, in my opinion, the type of horror movie we need more of. If youíre tired of zombies and found-footage rip-offs, give a film with genuine horror and real characters that earn your emotional investment a try. And good luck writing your own piece about it.