It’s always exciting when a director comes out of the gate swinging. Last year Jordan Peele and Greta Gerwig both made instant classics with their directorial debuts, “Get Out” and “Lady Bird”. 2018 has seen a lot of exceptional work from first time directors such as Bo Burnham’s “Eighth Grade” or Bradley Cooper’s juggernaut, “A Star is Born”. One of the most impressive films this year also comes from a first-time director: Ari Aster’s horror masterpiece “Hereditary”.
Hereditary came out in June and was instantly compared to films like “The Exorcist” and “Rosemary’s Baby” and for good reason. It’s scary as hell. I’ve never been a big fan of horror. I think the genre has the same problem as the recent influx of superhero movies. An overwhelming majority of these movies opt for cheap scares, bland plots and bad acting. Fortunately, the difference between horror and superhero movies is that studios are much more likely to let these horror creators take artistic risks and that’s when we get gems like “Hereditary”.
For the most part, “Hereditary” is a family drama. It takes place after the death of Annie’s (Toni Collette) mother. Most of the movie revolves around Annie uncovering secrets about her mother that become more and more sinister as the film progresses. I was impressed with a lot of things when it comes to “Hereditary”. The acting, the precision, the pace. There’s a lot to love with this movie so I’ll quickly run through the reasons this made it on my top ten for the year.
This movie is the definition of a slow burn. Aside from a truly shocking and horrifying event about half way through the movie, it spends most of its time slowly turning up the heat until the last twenty minutes in which it explodes. I’ve heard quite a few criticisms about how slow it is, but in order to truly appreciate the insanity at the end of the movie it helps to spend a lot of time with this family. Annie lives with her husband and two children, Peter and Charlie. Peter (Alex Wolff) acts as the audience surrogate. He is the one who grounds the movie and allows us to react in horror to the strange things happening to his family. Wolff plays this part with such fear and innocence. He does an amazing job at making the audience care about this family and fear what would happen to them. The pivotal scene in which Charlie gets her head knocked off by a telephone poll as she puts her head out the car window gasping for air was horrifying enough to watch on its own. What truly made that scene stick in my mind though, was Alex Wolff’s reaction. His immediate shock is apparent as he slams on the breaks and refuses to look in the rear-view mirror to see his decapitated sisters’ body. What’s even more terrifying is the slow realization at the end of the movie that Peter, the anchor of the film, is and was from the beginning, the only target of the evil that haunts this family. In the final moments of the film we watch as Peter is killed, and his body is inhabited by a demon lord from hell.
The other outstanding performance came from Toni Collette. Collette plays the mother who wants to desperately protect her family from whatever malevolent force her mother placed on them. There isn’t a moment in the film in which Collette is mailing it in. She is constantly firing on all cylinders and her big monologue at the dinner table where she erupts and screams at her son has an Oscar nomination written all over it.
One complaint I’ve heard about “Hereditary” is that it becomes too literal at the end. Collette’s character is beheaded in a final sacrifice to an actual satanic cult. I understand that most of the film is vague and leaves much to interpretation and I can appreciate that it may not be super satisfying for the final answer to be “it was Satan”. But as a huge metal head I can say that revealing a cult that successfully summons “A Demon Prince from Hell” is plenty satisfying to me. In fact, I think I threw up the metal horns as Joan (Ann Dowd) proclaims “Hail Paemon!” in the final moments of the film.
The last thing I wanted to touch on is the insane technical precision of this movie. Any lingering questions you may have about this movie are all answered upon a second viewing. Much like M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense”, all the clues and answers were there the entire time. From the symbol of Paemon being carved into the telephone poll that kills Charlie, to the ritualistic words written on her walls, everything one might think is a plot hole or loose thread is all on the screen for the viewer to find.
Instead of relying on jump scares or gratuitous gore, it’s scariest moments come from human reactions. And from the amount of care that went into constructing every scene to the sincere and intense performances by Alex Wolff and Toni Collette it’s easy to see why this movie is being hailed as an instant horror classic. Hail Paemon!