Release: 15th June 2018
Director: Ari Aster
Cast: Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff
I went into this film knowing little of what it was about; I didn’t have an idea of what the plot was beyond the fact there was a death in the family. Not knowing where the plot was going, or what kind of horror film this was, made this a much better film. I was consistently impressed with how surprising it was. The film continually throws a curve-balls, going one way, then another. This film’s plot is well thought out and designed to deceive and surprise the audience continuously. My recommendation is to avoid all marketing and go in blind, it will be a much more fulfilling experience.
Despite being a directorial debut, Hereditary delivers with so much precision, care and thought; hopefully a sign of things to come for director, Ari Aster. Every frame of this film is beautifully crafted and demonstrates a clear understanding of how a film (especially a horror film) should be presented in order to engage the audience and keep them captivated over the course of the two hour and ten-minute run time.
The way the film was shot showed a true sense of care and attention to detail: with many cool camera tricks, precise framing, and long takes without cuts. The film takes its time, with many shots just holding on an actor’s face, allowing their emotions to be conveyed through nothing other than their facial expressions. This makes the impact of the scenes so much greater. The ability to know when and when not to cut demonstrates Aster’s understanding and thoughtfulness when presenting a scene. He lets the scene play out slowly, with no desire to rush to the – “scary bit” – because without proper build up it holds no weight. There are many instances where you don’t see the outcome of certain events, but rather the reaction others have, which allows you to picture the event for yourself and create the horror in your mind, this is brilliantly effective.
The sound design was incredible; the entire film had an eeriness throughout and it was hard to tell at certain points if the sound was coming from the film itself or the audience. Regardless of where it came from, it ultimately added to the film, as the constant oddities and off-putting sounds made the film feel even more tense. It always felt as if something was about to happen, the audience was constantly on edge. The film’s ability to keep you on alert throughout, for me, made it! The decision not to use any ‘jump-scares’ (apart from one, which is debatable as to whether or not it even qualifies as a jump-scare) enhanced the film further. It made the world feel more real, rather than just a collection of loud noises accompanied with stock “loud violin” sounds.
By far the strongest aspect of this film is the performances, with Toni Collette and Gabriel Byrne being the standouts. One is bombastic with a lot of great subtleties, whilst the other was quiet and reserved, with everything in his performance expressed through his face. The rest of the cast was strong, but if I’m being honest, Collette is so good, that everyone else seems weaker by comparison. that’s not to say they’re bad, far from it, but she is just on another level.
Personally, this is the first performance I’ve seen all year that screams Oscar worthy! Whilst I doubt the Academy will go anywhere near this film, Collette, in my view, deserves a nomination at the very least. There are scenes where you need no more than the look on her face in order to tell what she’s thinking, and in many moments, the horror of the film is sold through the expression on her face alone. Absolutely brilliant!
Inferences and the subtle clues placed throughout the plot of the film are clever. This isn’t really a place to discuss deeper themes and meanings, but the fact that Aster took the time to subtly place small clues towards the events of the film, as well as symbolic imagery throughout, makes the film more rewarding and designed for multiple viewings, rather than just the one.
Unfortunately, there is one flaw that can’t be overlooked and that’s the use of CGI. The most distracting use of CG, to me personally, was the fire in the film, which came up multiple times. It was jarring and looked fake in a way that’s difficult to describe. The best I can say is that it didn’t feel real: something about the colour, the way it moved and the way the actor’s reacted felt wrong. There were also CG insects that didn’t look great but they were mostly in dark rooms where it was hard to notice, so that wasn’t nearly as bad.
Even with that minor annoyance, the film is still fantastic. It utilises sound, visuals, acting in ways that many horror films fail to do. The film gives time and care to the filmmaking rather than having loud sounds and garish splattering’s of blood to distract from the fact that nothing scary is happening. It’s one of the best horror films in years (up there with Trey Edward Schultz’s “It Comes at Night” from last year, another A24 film) and one of the best films of the year, period.