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The horror genre is often associated with low budgets and exploitation but it’s also where a lot of huge directors cut their teeth and honed their craft. I’m talking about people like James Cameron, Steven Spielberg, and Kathryn Bigelow to name a small few.
We will be adding writer director Ari Aster to that list in the future, because I don’t think I’ve seen a horror debut this good since Tobe Hooper let loose a psycho with a chainsaw in Texas.
Shocking me right out of my brain
It’s not easy to come up with new ways to freak people out. Nothing is more horrific and shocking than real life. If it’s not some kind of atrocity being committed by one human against others it’s the horrible and irresponsible commercial and political bias displayed by the mainstream media.
Our tolerance for all things scary is a lot higher too. There’s only so many iterations of zombies, vampires, werewolves, cannibals with chainsaws, or whatever bogeyman you care to mention, along with the phenomenal amount of remakes and sequels you can bear. With all that repetition it takes a lot more effort to inspire any kind of reaction from an audience that has been down those well-worn pathways. Mostly you find yourself subject to a barrage of cheap jump scares and ridiculous gore, and that drives me mad.
Hereditary seems to transcend all of that.
While I wouldn’t say that Ari Aster’s story is groundbreaking, his exploration of themes around family, grief and mental health does bring some truly disturbing subject matter to the fore.
I don’t want to divulge too much of the plot here because I don’t want to detract from the experience this film delivers. At the session I was in I looked across the row and there were several people sitting with their knees tucked up under their chins and their hands on their faces. At one stage I even think I heard a girl sobbing. That just made me enjoy it even more!
A very brief and spoiler-free synopsis, a family mourn their grandmother, and come to realise they knew very little about her. Following her death a series of events take place that are disturbing as fuck.
The cast are phenomenal. Gabriel Byrne as the reserved and composed father Steve. Alex Wolff as Peter the teenage son trying to find a place among his peers. Broadway star Milly Shapiro makes her motion picture debut as the freaky younger daughter Charlie. Her character really affected me because I generally don’t enjoy people using characters who tend to be—for want of a better word—untypical in the way she was, but mission accomplished, this movie isn’t exactly the feel good hit of the summer.
The most outstanding part was that of Toni Collette as the mother, Annie. This is the performance of her career. If you’re into shit like the Oscars, she definitely deserves a place at the best actress table. All of the events that take place in this film hit like a freight train because of the way Toni Collette sells them. She’s the reason people were huddled up and sobbing during the screening I was at.
Hereditary has a long fuse and a slow crescendo to the chaotic and fairly predictable final act. I enjoyed that slow build because I think it made the disturbing parts so much more worth the wait. There was even one point in the film where I gasped out loud, and that is a rare thing for me. Is it the scariest film I’ve ever seen? Not really, but I don’t think any horror film is, not when you can watch the world completely fuck itself on the news each and every day.
It inspires a reaction beyond the cheap jump scare and gratuitous gore. For some that might be shock, for others fear, some might even be annoyed.
Overall, I was delighted.
Delighted to see a young director deliver an amazing debut, an Australian actor turn in the performance of her career and a movie that sits on a shelf with all time classics like The Shining and The Exorcist.