Hereditary (Aster, 2018)

Kudos to Ari Aster for making a film that is so unbridled in its insanity that it has the durability of Teflon. There are several images in Hereditary that will be hard to forget anytime soon. From a traumatized teen going home with his tail between his legs to bodiless heads and levitating bodies, Hereditary worms its way into your subconscious and never leaves. That is, if you’re willing to get lost in the tale, and trust in its shocking power. Several of my audience members seemed to resist, giggling and hooting several times before an irritated patron told them to shut it, because “it’s a horror movie and not a comedy!” But maybe it can be both? As disturbing as it sometimes is, there is also an element of high camp in the dialled-up-to-ten emoting that some of the cast indulge in, and in the moment it can seem rather ridiculous. But there were also as many “what the fucks” as there were snickers, meaning that Aster knew the kinds of mind games he was going to play with us. Everything can seem funny… until it isn’t. Until lives are endangered, and the true evil that has been manipulating everything begins to manifest itself. At that point, we don’t want our funny bones tickled. We just want our bones to cooperate and take us to safe refuge as quickly as possible. That’s the reason Hereditary works so damn well.

There are a few small areas that could’ve used some improvement. The film is somewhat overplotted when it reaches its end, with the excess manoeuvring diluting some of the potent metaphorical impact that the story possessed in its early stages. A “less is more” approach wouldn’t have been a bad thing here, and actually would’ve made the plight of the Grahams more emotionally satisfying. As it is, the revelation of their fates sort of comes to us with a clunk by the two-hour mark. I also think Toni Collette could’ve been reigned in a bit in her last few scenes. She is staggeringly great in the first two-thirds, but she lays on the hysterics too thickly towards the end, which makes the performance a little uneven. I could excuse her if she came out and said that she was indebted to Shelley Duvall in The Shining, as her facial expressions really reminded me of that performance. But, really, who knows how her performance came about?

Even with these small complaints, I can’t say Hereditary is a film I’ll be able to shake for a while (if at all). Its sheer hopelessness and tragic consequences are a haunting counterpoint to more traditional horror fare, where Final Girls escape and monsters are unable to win the day. Here, the implication is that the monster has won even before the film begins, and that’s no easy pill to swallow. It never will be.