Following the death of her mother, miniaturist Annie (Toni Collette) attempts to cope with conflicting feelings within herself but when another tragedy soon befalls her and her family, unexplained supernatural events start occurring and she strives to unravel all the dark mysteries and keep the rest of her family safe.
Where Hereditary thrives most is in its technical presentation – the most impressive elements being Pawel Pogorzelski’s cinematography, Grace Yun’s production design and Colin Stetson’s effective score. Carrying on the trend of sleek, visually appealing horror films that we’ve been treated to this decade, Hereditary is shot very well with a distinctive and effective colour pallette and many scenes, both interior and exterior, are artistically proficient, the various sets and locations well designed – we get to know the house and surrounding areas quite well throughout the feature. As director, Aster manages to create a patiently disturbing atmosphere as well as an overall feeling of creepiness and he certainly knows how to competently frame and shoot all the action – an impressive achievement for a first time director – but on the flip side, he keeps the film going for much longer than it should, he allows the first half to occasionally slip into patience-testing tedium, and when using certain inventive shots (such as in one scene where it appears that Toni Collette is walking on the ceiling, only to have the camera flip right side up to resume normality), it could be said that he comes to rely on camera “tricks” to distract from the uneventful parts of the film.
Because while Hereditary certainly looks great and hits all the right notes on a technical level, I ultimately found myself quite underwhelmed by it all – not finding it to be the “horror masterclass” some had promised and certainly not a patch on this year’s A Quiet Place. The main problems are that it’s overlong, it takes itself too seriously, it doesn’t bring anything new or exciting to the horror genre, and it’s often too slow for it’s own good; I realise that in films like this, they have to lay the groundwork by developing the characters and sloooowly building up the dread but the story isn’t strong enough to warrant the gruelling pace and any shocking moments are too unimpactful, resulting in a film that looks good but is too short on actual scares and lasting dread.
But that’s not to say that Hereditary is totally devoid of chills because when it reaches its third act, it’s allowed to come to life a bit and Aster treats us to some unpredictable and eerie events. The story itself isn’t exactly original but there’s patient storytelling throughout and, apart from some blatant narrative spoonfeeding right at the end, Aster assumes his audience is intelligent and allows them to fit the various puzzle pieces together for themselves.
The film has a relatively small cast and in Hereditary, the girls clearly shine brightest while the guys don’t fare too well. Front and centre, already generating universal acclaim from film fans, Toni Collette dominates proceedings as she delivers a passionately emotional performance as family matriarch Annie – a miniaturist who has to deal with conflicting feelings surrounding the death of her mother (not exactly broken up about her death since she was abusive and unstable) and gradually losing her mind in a Rosemary’s Baby manner when she strives to get to the bottom of the horrific supernatural events surrounding her family. Collette’s performance is full of despair, anguish, uncertainty and terror and it’s clear that no-one else could’ve played this role – she nails all aspects of her character and is sure to be up for recognition come awards season.
In equally impressive supporting roles are The Handmaid’s Tale‘s Ann Dowd and, in her debut feature, young Milly Shapiro. Just as in THT, Ann Dowd showcases an ideal mix of motherly charm while also subtly implying something sinister lurking beneath the surface, using those precise facial expressions to an effective extent, all in all becoming a mysterious and noteworthy secondary character – seemingly a cross between Kathy Bates and Ruth Gordon. And continuing the growing trend of superb child actors (Tremblay! Lieberher! Jupe! Grace!), Milly Shapiro makes a huge impact in this film as the important Charlie, even when not on screen, as she appears noticeably creepy, otherworldly and odd while also seeming appropriately innocent and supportive when the need arises.
But elsewhere, Gabriel Byrne (though he does the best with what he’s given) is wasted in his role as the father since the character isn’t that interesting and the part could’ve been played by anybody, and Alex Wolff is far too mopey, whingey and lifeless as son Peter, not likeable enough by a long shot to warrant caring about him.
So despite so much positive buzz, I don’t think that Hereditary lives up to the immense hype and much like It Follows, a lot of care was put into making the film aesthetically impressive but all of that comes with a lack of actual scares. I’m giving it four stars due to it’s technical proficiency and because, somewhere inside of me, I know it’s probably better than I give it credit for, a fine outing for a debut director. I’m also pretty desensitized to horror so although it had little to no impact on me, it’s probably more than capable of creeping the bejeezus out of everyone else.
But it definitely ain’t no Exorcist, no siree.