I saw a blurb before I went to Hereditary that said it was “the scariest movie since The Exorcist.” I think they must have seen a different film. Yes, there are disturbing scenes and the usual horror flick tropes all over the place, but I was never really scared and I didn’t take it out of the theater as I did with The Exorcist. Hereditary is from first time director Ari Aster who assembled a first rate cast including Toni Collette (The Sixth Sense), Gabriel Byrne (The Usual Suspects), Alex Wolff (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), newcomer Milly Shapiro and character actress Ann Dowd (The Handmaid’s Tale, Aunt Lydia). He also has a very talented cinematographer who loves to show off his tricks of the trade. But the film felt like two stories. The first half is about grief and the second is the horror part. And at 2 hours and change, it takes way too long to get to the scary stuff.
Most of the film is about a family: a mom (Collette), a dad (Byrne), a son (Wolff) and a young daughter (Shapiro). They live in a beautiful house in Colorado. Mom is an artist who makes little houses and dioramas taken from her real life. At the start of the movie, her mom has died and she’s working on a hospice scene, the funeral scene, and a bunch of others for an upcoming gallery show. But she’s really not that upset about her mother’s death, which troubles her. Meanwhile her son is being the petulant pot-smoking teenager. And her odd little 13-year-old daughter is making her own art (?), even cutting off the head of a dead bird for one. Psychiatrist Dad is trying to be a good father, though it’s hard to know what that would mean in this family, especially as the family is slowly torn to shreds. Only the daughter misses Grandma, since she actually took care of her. So this first half of the film is about loss and reactions to it.
Part 2: Big brother is forced to take little sister to a party and a horrific accident happens, which sets off a series of even more horrifying incidents. There’s a supernatural, malevolent force surrounding the family, and it has something to do with dead Grandma. A seance brought about by a woman mom met at her grief support group (Dowd) opens their world to even more danger. And frankly you have no idea what’s going on, what with strange lights and ghostly presences, and burnt corpses and such, until the last minutes of the film.
I was more disturbed than terrified. I’ve no doubt there is an audience for this one though. I’m no horror film lover, so maybe I missed the cues. It does have great acting and great production values. I just hope for the director’s next one, he gets help on the script and keeps it shorter.