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Overall Rating

Awesome: 25.93%
Worth A Look: 22.22%
Just Average: 0%
Pretty Crappy29.63%
Sucks: 22.22%

2 reviews, 15 user ratings

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by Peter Sobczynski

"Believe The Hype"
5 stars

Ever since “The Blair Witch Project” startled unsuspecting audiences when it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival before going on to become a massive game-changing hit nearly twenty years ago, critics and audiences have flocked to the major film festivals in the hopes of coming across a previously unheralded genre item that they can instantly hype in the hopes of getting in on the ground floor if it winds up becoming a big success as well. Sure, there have been some occasional gems along the way—take such recent knockouts as “The Babadook,” “It Follows” and “Raw” that managed to more than live up to their hype, there have been far too many that were praised to the skies in the heat of the moment by people looking for the Next Big Thing only to look overrated at best and ludicrous at worst when viewed in a properly oxygenated atmosphere and without having already sat through five other movies that day beforehand. The latest film along those lines is “Hereditary,” which arrived at this year’s Sundance with a newcomer writer/director, a cast top lined by Toni Colette and Gabriel Byrne—two fine actors but not exactly box-office draws—and a midnight time slot and left with countless raves, including a money quote comparing it favorably to no less of a film than “The Exorcist” itself. It sounds like a classic case of a film that cannot possibly live up to its advance word but even the most cynical of moviegoers will have to admit that this is one that not only lives up to the hype but actually exceeds it. Actually, they may not be ready to do so immediately after seeing it because they will be too shaken to do much of anything. This one is a keeper—an instant genre classic that will almost certainly go down as one of the best and most memorable movies of the year.

Like many films of its type, “Hereditary” starts off at a funeral as Annie Graham (Collette), an artist who specializes in creating miniature models of rooms, is preparing to bury her mother, who has just passed after a long period of illness that put a strain on her estranged daughter and her family, husband Steven ((Byrne), shy teen pothead Peter (Nat Wolff) and oddball 13-year-old daughter Charlie (Millie Shapiro). After delivering an especially grim eulogy—which starts off with her acknowledging surprise over the unexpectedly large number of mourners and goes downhill from there—Annie hopes that her mother’s passing will allow her to get back to work and bring her family back together again. However, when Annie finds herself compelled to go to a grief support group, she vents with a long and wounding monologue that reveals that her difficulties with her mother have gone on for her entire life and that she blames her not only for their problems but for the premature and horrible deaths of her father and older brother. This might seem cathartic but as Annie goes on in wrenching detail, it becomes more and more apparent that she may indeed be more of her mother’s child than she is ready or willing to admit to being and that her mother’s absence may not be enough to overcome the schisms in her own family’s existence.

This is all covered in maybe the first 15-20 minutes of the film and it is at this point that I will reveal no more details about the plot at all. This is not to say that this is one of those M. Night Shyamalan twist factories based entirely on a series of surprise developments that will immediately lose their power the moment they are revealed. No, this is a fully developed and complexly drawn narrative that is about as airtight and compelling as storytelling in this particular genre gets these days. Better still, it is a story that has not been spoiled by an ad campaign determined to include every big scream in the trailers and commercials—with the exception of one key image, the ads do not even suggest the unusual and increasingly discomfiting places where the film will be taking viewers. Even that quote comparing it to “The Exorcist” is a bit of a misnomer—while there are enough elements on display to warrant such a comparison, I suppose, I found that it reminded me a lot more, in the best possible way, of Stanley Kubrick’s film of “The Shining” in how it blends together potentially supernatural elements with an even-more harrowing depiction of an ordinary family coming apart at the seams as the result of unimaginable psychological pressures and perhaps something else as well.

“Hereditary” was written and directed by Ari Aster, making his feature debut after having previously a handful of shorts. This is the one aspect of the film that some observers might find hard to swallow because there is no way to reconcile the notion that he is a first-timer with the extraordinary set of skills that he displays here. I can’t quite recall the last time I saw a debut film that was as self-assured and effective as this one. Like a lot of new directors with energy and ambition to spare, he has made an extremely stylish film that is always interesting to look at, especially when the horrific stuff kicks in and he finds a number of inventive ways of spooking viewers without resorting to the usual jump scares that are the hallmark of a lazy-ass horror filmmaker. Even when the scenes in question are not overtly scary in theory, he manages to find just the right composition or detail to create a subtle sense of unease throughout. Unlike a lot of new directors, especially those making their debuts in the horror genre, he has written a compelling narrative that is such a powerful and wounding look at the horrible all-consuming nature of grief and rage and how they can be passed down from generation to generation as though part of the genetic makeup that it more than earns its stripes as a horror classic long before the more overtly genre-related material kicks in. (There is a scene in which the freshly devastated Graham family tears into each other over dinner that is more bloodcurdling and wince-inducing than many entire horror franchises that I could name.) As for the more horrific material, Aster is clearly a student of the genre but he is not merely content to copy famous scenes beat-for-beat—he has instead clearly broken them down to get at what made them so effective and then applies that knowledge to his own narrative. As a result, “Hereditary” is the rare horror film that wears its influences on its sleeve but is nevertheless original enough to keep even genre buffs guessing (not to mention fearing) what he might have up his sleeve.

Aster also proves himself highly adept in the one area of the filmmaking process that first-timers making a horror film oftentimes let slip to the side—the performances. Take the central performance by Toni Collette, for example. Her performance as a woman who was already damaged goods as the story opened and who subsequently lets a lifetime of rage, guilt and fear that she has tried to keep inside of her begins spurting out in increasingly unspeakable ways is a one-of-a-kind powerhouse that is impossible to shake. If “Hereditary” were not a horror film, the kind of genre that the Oscars rarely gives consideration to, there is no question that Collette would already be a lock for the Best Actress prize and even with all that genre baggage, I cannot readily think of anyone at the moment challenging her for the front-runner status. This is a tour-de-force turn but it is hardly the only strong performance on display. As Peter, who is increasingly tormented by past difficulties with Annie’s as well as present torments that most people would find to be too much to bear, Nat Wolff is equally strong and the scenes where he and Collette face off are almost too intense to bear at times. As the uncomprehending husband, Gabriel Byrne has perhaps the most cliched role in the script but he manages to make his character into a real person who cares about his wife and family, of course, but is beginning to fear them as much as he loves them. In her film debut, young stage actress Milly Shapiro makes an indelible impression as Charlie, whose haunted features and oddball demeanor creates such an indelible impression that her presence is still felt even during the scenes in which she is not part of the action.

The problem with reviewing a film like “Hereditary” is that if I call it a supremely effective and scary horror film, it will sound more like a challenge than a recommendation to some viewers. They will go expecting the scariest thing ever and if it doesn’t have them jumping in their seats every few moments, they will rush back to their computers to let everyone know that they weren’t scared at all by it. This is a great horror movie, one of the best in recent years, but it is not one designed for the jump scare crowd. It is quiet, deliberately paced and its scares are most of the slow-burn variety—at times, the scares are hidden in plain sight on the screen and it is up to the viewers to be keen-eyed enough to recognize them before they eventually make their presence known to all. Yes, it has a number of big jumps and shocks—all of which work because they are both scary and genuinely unexpected—but for the most part, this is the kind of horror film that seeps into your subconscious and sets up camp there for a long time to come. Of course, there are some people out there who may not be into that kind of moviegoing experience and I can completely understand that. To them, and anyone who might find themselves leaning towards that way of thinking, all I can say is that if you do not want to experience a genuinely terrifying two hours at the movies that you will not be shaking anytime soon, then do not under any circumstance go and see “Hereditary.”

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=31775&reviewer=389
originally posted: 06/07/18 11:23:59
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2018 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2018 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2018 SXSW Film Festival For more in the 2018 SXSW Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

3/01/20 Chester Some genuinely scary scenes but a nonsensical ending. 2 stars
2/07/20 Dave Over long, disconnected, and embarrasingly unscary! 1 stars
7/30/19 Connor Utterly wretched, and a waste of ideas that had potential. 1 stars
3/02/19 Eggbert Sandwich This simply isn`t mainstream entertainment, its highbrow elitist rubbish and total crap. 1 stars
1/15/19 David Hollingsworth A modern horror masterpiece 5 stars
9/12/18 the giver of the law A laughable joke of a movie, totally non-sensical from start to finish. 1 stars
9/03/18 Louise Rubbish, so slow, more like an art-house movie. 1 stars
8/26/18 Langano First class horror flick. 4 stars
8/26/18 Leepy Like most horror films, mostly boring 2 stars
8/24/18 damalc scary & original 4 stars
6/27/18 Martin Several ways the title can apply. Great acting, scary, some tropes 4 stars
6/18/18 Bob Dog Unlike most ADHD horror movies, this one took the time to build it's creepy mood. 4 stars
6/15/18 Louise Impressive horror film, though not everything quite clear. Well acted. 4 stars
6/11/18 Tony Brubaker Ludicrously over-rated and at times unbearably and unendurably embarrassing. 1 stars
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  DVD: 04-Sep-2018


  DVD: 04-Sep-2018

Directed by
  Ari Aster

Written by
  Ari Aster

  Toni Collette
  Gabriel Byrne
  Alex Wolff
  Milly Shapiro
  Ann Dowd
  Mallory Bechtel

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