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Story finds an eccentric family, whose lineage has a history of mental illness, experiencing strange occurrences and tragic events after the death of it’s matriarch. Her surviving daughter Annie (Toni Collette) slowly begins to believe something supernatural is attached to her family, something evil, while her husband feels it’s all in her head. Is Annie losing her mind, or is she about to find out she inherited more from mom than just some mental issues.
The hype machine has been working overtime for weeks on this flick being an instant classic, but much like 2016’s The Witch, which received the same pre-release praise, this one has some merit, but is far from the traumatizing experience it’s being sold as. Hereditary is atmospherically directed by Ari Aster from his own script, has some very unsettling moments and the eccentric family members are enough to give you the willies themselves. From Collette’s Annie who relives traumatic events in her life by building miniature dioramas of them and daughter Charlie, who likes to cut the heads off dead birds, this is an Addams Family in the making. From a distance, the post funeral events could be the result of traumatic events, mixing with some bad DNA, but we slowly discover there might actually be something malevolent stalking this family. There are some creepy moments and Aster gives us some initial doubts whether this is elemental or simply mental, till a last act where we finally open the flood gates to hell and get what we came for…and that’s the flaw here. The film is very slow paced and while it seems to be intentional, it’s a bit too slow paced for it’s own good. Much like The Witch there are some very spooky sequences and visuals, but there are also long stretches that are just tedious. Some of the supernatural hocus pocus comes off as a bit silly, too, and the really scary stuff doesn’t happen until the last few scenes. It’s a long stretch till the film really delivers and while there is plenty of unsettling things to keep us occupied, there are also quite a few moments where you might find yourself checking your watch. The film does go somewhere that was very effective, had some chilling developments, but sometimes felt like it was rambling at times before getting to it’s Rosemary’s Baby-esque finale. On a strictly production level, the cinematography is very effective from Pawel Pogorzelski, as is Aster’s visual eye and a lot of the atmosphere comes from Colin Stetson’s goosebump inducing score.
Aster did perfectly cast this somewhat mixed-bag. Toni Collette is near brilliant as a woman with her own issues dealing with not only the trauma of two deaths, but the belief that there is some sort of curse or malevolent entity stalking her family. It’s an opinion her somewhat clueless husband doesn’t share, which isolates her. Gabriel Byrne does a wonderful job as husband Steven, a man who is sometimes too calm and emotionally detached to be of any help. He believes it’s all in her head and refuses to see there is something very odd going on. Milly Shapiro is downright creepy as the introverted and odd daughter Charlie. The young actress gives us goosebumps with just a look and a tilt of her head, not to mention carrying out the script’s extremely weird behavior for her. Rounding out the family is Alex Wolff as teen son Peter who already has a tenuous relationship with Annie thanks to her trying to set him on fire while sleepwalking at one point. He is very sympathetic, especially in the second half when things escalate. There is also a small part portrayed by Ann Dowd as Annie’s friend from a loss support group, who is a little off-kilter herself after losing her grandson.
In conclusion, the sum of it’s parts are greater than the whole. There are too many stretches where the film gets a bit tedious and borders on outright dull to be the modern horror classic PR hype wants us to believe. Ari Aster shows he has a nice touch for providing atmosphere and unsettling visuals and while it takes a bit too long to get to them, he can produce outright scares, such in the last act. The final ten minutes alone make up for some of the waiting. His characters were disturbing without the supernatural goings-on, though some of those those goings-on weren’t always as effective as they should have been, to keep the tension consistent. The director loses his grip here and there as his pace is a little too meandering for the movie’s own good. There is a lot of potential shown here for Aster as a filmmaker, just too soon to be calling him a master…or this a masterpiece. Despite being extremely over-hyped, it is worth a look for all the things that do work.
Rated 3 cans of lighter fluid which should be kept away from sleepwalkers at all times.