Horror fanatics and aficionados are currently in the midst of one of the most terrifyingly impressive stretches of filmmaking in the genre’s 100-plus year history. Every year, the internet is abuzz with overwhelming love from bloggers, critics and festival goers hyping the next big horror entry. And thankfully, 2018 is no exception to this trend. Hereditary is the latest in a long line of outstanding modern horror films that takes our expectations of the genre, twists their necks, before finally slashing them repeatedly with a rusty machete.
It’s that bloody good.
Please pardon the untested arrogance from a non-filmmaker here, but it doesn’t appear to take too much to jolt a reaction out of an audience member. Turn the score down, dim the lighting, smear in some faint diegetic noise and then quickly smash cut to something scary with the sound dialled up to deafening levels. The formula works. Filmmakers show us things that go bump in the night. We scream and jump. Rinse and repeat.
But recently, we’ve been treated to an influx of young independent filmmakers who appear to be hellbent on avoiding the duplication of tired formulaic tricks. These young visionaries are establishing a new wave of modern indie horror that favours atmospheric dread over easy and manipulative jump scares.
Heralded by many as The Exorcist for a new generation, Ari Aster’s debut film, does an artful job of learning from the films that have preceded it, before swiftly changing course just enough to deliver its own unsettling concoction of bona fide terror.
If you loved the slow and methodical unravelling of the Puritan family into hell from The Witch, Hereditary exercises that same patience and payoff.
If you were devastated by the raw emotional torment of The Babadook, Hereditary drips in authentic and harrowing familial tragedy.
If you found the ominous imagery and lingering threat of It Follows indeed scary, Hereditary features some of the most disturbing sequences we’ve seen in years.
Aster understands that for true horror to efficiently pervade our hearts and souls, it must first strike a familiar nerve and while I intend to complete this review stating almost nothing about the plot, I will state that the title and all of its obvious and hidden meaning is a brilliant premise to mine for horror gold.
While I don’t personally feel the need, I understand why many would feel driven to log on to websites like Ancestry.com. Understanding our origins is an important part of developing our self concept and identity. The family tree image itself is ripe with sprawling branches and connections, but what it more interesting from an artistic perspective is when we see the roots burrowing deep beneath the surface. It is here in the darkest and grimest cellars of our bloodline that Aster explores and exploits the psychological damage we inherit from the previous generations.
What makes Hereditary so damaging and potent is its confidence in spending a good portion of its 128-minute runtime, lingering and operating as a legitimate kitchen-sink drama. We’re absorbed by this realistic and sympathetic family (headlined by a powerless and grief-stricken Toni Collette in a career-defining role) and we mourn as we sit hopelessly by and watch this devastating vignette of an American family tear itself to shreds.
All that emotional investment into the believable misery of the players on screen, makes the film’s descent into madness all the more viscerally affecting. When Aster releases the pressure valve and all his meticulous control is finally set free, the nervous laughter from the audience could no longer be contained. You simply cannot unsee the brilliant and utterly disturbing things Aster has conjured up in the final act.
This is legitimately terrifying. Legitimately scary. Legitimately disturbing. This is legitimately a modern-day horror masterpiece.