As always, I arrive late to the party as I just saw Ari Aster’s 2018 movie Hereditary. I found it shockingly beautiful and it entered straight into my list of the best horror films of the last decade together with the various The Babadook (2014), The Witch (2015), The Lighthouse (2019), It Follows (2014), Get Out (2017), Don’t Breathe (2016) and The Cabin in the Woods (2011). I want to avoid spoilers as much as possible because this film deserves to be seen without any prior information. So I’ll try to avoid revealing key points of the plot, and I will warn you in case I don’t succeed, but I would advise anyone who hasn’t seen the film yet to do it before continuing to read.
Hereditary is a finely crafted film that deals intelligently with the topic of family loss. The script works like clockwork, every dialogue fits perfectly with the themes of the film (even those of the philosophy lessons), and every detail, even if apparently insignificant, contributes to advance the story and to the world-building of the movie.
Just to begin a minimum of analysis, here’s what happens in the first two minutes of the film: we meet Annie (Toni Collette) and Steve (Gabriel Byrne), the parents of Peter (Alex Wolff) and Charlie (Milly Shapiro), at the funeral of Annie’s mother’s. During the ceremony, she clearly says that her mother had not been a loving mother and was a difficult person (in fact, she’s surprised to see so many unknown people in the room and speculates that the deceased wouldn’t have liked that), but it’s easy to understand that the loss has left a mark in the family.
Hereditary is about loss and how to deal with the pain caused by it. It’s also about how much we knew of the members of our family who passed away and with which we didn’t have idyllic relationships. But (here come the inevitable spoilers, although mild)…
… At the same time Hereditary is also a very successful horror film that’s really scary (and I mean really scary, and I’m not talking about stupid jump scares) and has an incredible atmosphere. I could compare it to a masterpiece like Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968), to mention one movie that comes close to it at least with respect to the villain (but even the already mentioned The Witch).
There are at least a couple of unexpected and amazing plot twists capable of leaving you you breathless. As a spectator, I found myself trying to guess what was going on a lot before the finale, only partially succeeding, but I didn’t feel deceived when I finally understood: the elements were in front of me, Hereditary doesn’t cheat the viewer, and when the story was revealed to me, I couldn’t help but appreciate the film even more!
Colin Stetson’s soundtrack is splendid, all the actors work very well (I had already appreciated Toni Collette in Little Miss Sunshine, it’s always a pleasure to see Gabriel Byrne, and the two kids are great), and a special mention goes to the excellent sets and to Ari Aster’s direction (and this is her debut!). He really manages to convey the dollhouse sensation which is explicit in the first scene but actually continues throughout the whole film. It seems that all the characters are nothing but miniatures in the hands of someone bigger than them. This feeling permeates the whole story and comes to full circle with the chilling ending. Here’s a question for you: does the knowledge that the characters couldn’t really escape their destiny make the story more or less tragic, to paraphrase the professor talking about Sophocles?
To conclude, Hereditary is an exceptional film, it’s worth watching it several times despite its cruelty, and represents a flawless debut for Ari Aster who in 2019 already directed his second film, Midsommar, which has been a box office success but of course I haven’t seen it yet. Ciao!
- The movie trailer on Youtube
- The movie page on Internet Movie DataBase
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