Film Review: Hereditary – 9/10

‘I never wanted to be your mother…’

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There is a scene in the 2006 remake of The Hills Have Eyes in which the horror and violence are ramped up over a ten minute period culminating in the grotesque breastfeeding of a repulsive mutant and two people being burnt alive at the stake. It is a powerful scene and one that is still difficult to sit through. What would happen if you could bottle that intensity, and drag it out over two hours? Welcome to Hereditary

The death of a family matriarch sparks off a sequence of horrifying events. Annie (Toni Collette) and Steve (Gabriel Byrne) try to hold their family together in the face of a delirious spate of bad luck.

The ongoing success of films like Insidious has always baffled me. Sure, they have jump scares galore, but whenever I have caught one of those flicks at the cinema, people spend as much time laughing as they do gasping, albeit nervously. Hereditary harks back to films such as Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist. It is serious, it is unflinching, it is visceral. This is what horror, true horror is supposed to be like.

In recent years, only the similarly divisive Mother! comes close to matching the sheer horrific intensity that first time writer/director Ari Aster has cultivated here. There are numerous literal nightmare sequences and other nightmarish moments that give the whole film the feel of grotesque unreality.

Fear is really about three things, fear of the unknown, fear of physical harm and the fear of going insane. Hereditary plays on all of these fears in a way that is genuinely exhausting at times.  Just being frightening doesn’t necessarily make a film good however. Luckily, the disorientating cinematography, combined with a career best performance from Toni Collette, ensures that Hereditary is more than just a very effective haunted house attraction. It is an exciting director combining superbly with a talented and determined cast.

An effective horror film is about moments. If I mention The Shining or Halloween or Carrie, your mind will instantly replay the scene from those films that affected you the most. Hereditary has many, many scenes and single shots that will return with a chill in the middle of the night. Lazy critics will often include a poster ready exclamation along the lines of ‘not for the faint hearted!’ or ‘don’t watch alone!’. Let me say this, without an exclamation mark, if you don’t have the stomach for films like Insidious and Sinister, then skip Hereditary. It is about as visceral, powerful and chilling as cinema can possibly be.

This film is a degradation of it’s characters. It is a cruel and it is bleak. You must ask yourself if you want to watch that. What kind of person are you?

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