What’s cool about the Sundance Film Festival is it’s the first chance that critics have to inform the general public about what great horror movies we have to look forward to seeing later that year. What’s not cool is that, knowing they’re seeing the movie before the general public, some critics become Hyperbolic Harrys and praise films so passionately that impossible expectations are created, with the movies themselves suffering when cries of “overhyped” get tossed out. This year’s horror sensation out of the festival was Hereditary and, having seen it, can confirm that this movie is the real fucking deal. However, it’s not without its flaws, so not everyone will be into it. See?! I’m tempering expectations!
Following the passing of a grandmother, the remaining family attempts to cope in a variety of ways, with the matriarch Annie (Toni Collette) being the one most actively trying to keep the family from descending into the depths of grief. Unfortunately, Annie is also the one having the most difficulty trying to balance out her resentment and depression towards her mother, lashing out at her husband and children during the difficult time. Through trying to manage her grief, Annie discovers some of her mother’s unexplained artifacts amongst her belongings, hinting that her mother had even more secrets than she had realized. Making matters worse is another tragedy striking the bereaved, igniting a paranoia-fueled journey into the supernatural, unless it’s all just in Annie’s head.
Heading into a horror film, audiences accept that they’re going to be scared, yet it will all be harmless and for the sake of fun. Hereditary, on the other hand, is not at all fun. It is goddamn exhausting. The film has plenty of spooky visuals and supernatural jump-scares to be unquestionably a horror film, but much of the film’s discomfort comes from the interactions among the family members. Nobody knows how they’ll react to the death of a loved one, with Hereditary providing audiences with both subtle and explosive moments of anxiety-inducing interactions between the family that are excruciating to watch unfold.
If you’re worried about this film being touted as a “psychological thriller” and not a full-blown horror film, well, boy oh boy, don’t you worry. Some of the film’s more startling moments and visuals are the most effective and unsettling sequences I’ve seen in a horror film in recent years, which will be due in part to what personally unsettles me, but may have no impact on anyone else. Additionally, despite having seen countless decapitations, eviscerations, and any number of gruesome acts of violence in movies, one shot in Hereditary made my jaw literally drop, and it wasn’t even anything spooky.
The blend of dramatic tension and the overall sense of something sinister unfolding is what makes the film so effective, but given the film’s two-hour running time, I could have possibly enjoyed it more were some of the scenes of “WE ARE A FAMILY BUT I AM MAD!” shouting matches were trimmed down. Then again, I don’t make movies, so what the fuck do I know?
In addition to the truly horrifying imagery on display in some scenes, Toni Collette is a goddamned MANIAC in this movie in an all-time fantastic performance. Everyone knows Collette is a great actress, but we’ve never quite seen her flex so many of her acting muscles in so many different ways as in this film, which may go down as the best performance in horror of the year.
Much like The Exorcist, The Babadook, or The Wailing, Hereditary is less a roller coaster ride of horrors to get your blood pumping and is rather a complete assault on your mind, body, and soul that will leave you feeling battered and broken. In other words, DO NOT SEE HEREDITARY UNLESS YOU WANT YOUR WHOLE GODDAMN WEEK RUINED IN ALL THE RIGHT WAYS.
Wolfman Moon Scale