Dir: Ari Aster
Star: Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd
Hereditary is one of the tent-pole movies of the godawful subgenre, “elevated horror,” a term which I loathed as soon as I heard it. It literally drips snobby elitism, with its anointing of certain elements of the horror genre as intrinsically higher in value. What it apparently largely means is, to quote the Hollywood Reporter, “This horror movie isn’t a mindlessly violent, totally exploitative slasher or torture porn flick. This horror movie is serious. It’s art.” Yet for all their pseudo-artistic trappings, they still traffic in the same primordial urges of other people’s misfortune, often of the most brutal kind. It doesn’t help that quite a number of them fail miserably to live up to the hype. The Babadook, for example, was both mediocre and forgettable, in my opinion.
This isn’t at that level. It is, in fact, quite a good movie, with a very solid central performance from Collette, who gets to fall apart, in the kind of role any actress would love to have. But the “scariest horror film ever made”, as some have claimed? Indeed, when you type “Hereditary film” into Google, the question is right there. Now, that’s obviously an objective choice, to which my carefully considered, equally objective response is: fuck off. Especially when you scroll down the page and the same source also says “People are calling The Invisible Man the “scariest horror movie of all time”” People, really: fuck right off. Even allowing for the hyperbole which powers the cesspool of social media, I stopped being scared of both invisible boogey-men and the devil when I was about 12. Just not scary.
Again, this doesn’t make Hereditary bad. It begins as a family drama, in which Annie Graham (Collette) is having to come to terms with her mother’s death, as well as a family history of frequently lethal mental illness. Not helping matters, the desecration of Mom’s grave, and then further tragedy, in the form of a spectacular accident. [And I’d say the gleeful way it’s depicted has more in common with not-so-elevated horrors like Final Destination] Annie goes to a support group, and is befriended by Joan (Dowd), who suggests that a seance might be just the thing to help Annie achieve peace. Yeah. I’ll take “Unutterably terrible decisions” for $800, please, Alex. To nobody’s surprise, apart from Annie, things only get worse from there, as we eventually discover some rather unpleasant family truths.
I can’t say I was particularly shocked or even surprised by much that unfolded. The tone is consistently dark, to the point that I was left permanently expecting the worst that could happen, and was usually right to do so. To be honest, I think I might have preferred it without the occult elements; what I do find scary is the prospect of my mind imploding inside me, and that’s what seems to be happening to Annie in the early going. It doesn’t need #BecauseSatan as an explanation. Sometimes the worst terrors are the ones we hold within ourselves.