A Brief Review of Hereditary (2018)


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First up, I have to apologize for the misleading title. I chose it because I have been using "A Brief Review of [Name of Film (Year)]" for most of my recent reviews of horror films. It is misleading here because I think that anyone seeing Hereditary should go in knowing as little about it as possible. Thus, this isn't going to be a review as much as some general impressions that may help you decide whether it is worth your time without giving anything away.

I think it would be fair to say that Hereditary (2018) generated more hype than any other horror film released in 2018 or so far in 2019. I have seen many people refer to it with phrases such as, "this generation's Exorcist." It wasn't. In fact, it wasn't even close to The Exorcist. It wasn't even particularly scary, although it did create a great unsettling atmosphere. The few jump scares, which I almost always find annoying, did not add much here. But just because it didn't live up to the hype does not mean it was not still a damn good film.

Hereditary belongs to the tradition of horror films that are often described as psychological horror or "slow-burn." These films are not for everyone, as many people regard them as boring. I did not find it boring, but I tend to enjoy other films in this tradition. It was slow-moving for the first half, maybe even the first two-thirds. In many respects, it initially seemed more like a drama than a horror film. I could imagine some viewers giving up before it got going because they were expecting something very different. In terms of tone and pacing, Hereditary reminded me of films like Rosemary's Baby and The Witch. Like them, it started off slowly, effectively built a sense of dread, and eventually turned a corner into something clearly recognizable as horror.

Even when it did turn that corner into horror, Hereditary did not go off the rails like mother! and similar films (if there are any similar films). I've seen some reviews claiming that it did, and I don't agree. It was far more subtle, and it did not seem like the director was out to shock or confuse the audience. It was more of a transition from not being sure whether this is a horror film to realizing that it clearly was. For the most part, it was effective.

If pushed to criticize the film, I'd have to say that it seemed a bit muddled in places. It was almost as if one too many possibilities were being crammed in for audiences to consider. I was okay with that because that sort of thing usually enhances the value of the film for repeat viewing, but I can see how it would bug some viewers. Some people really didn't like the end, but I thought it worked. It wasn't the end I was hoping for, but I did not find it as puzzling as some seemed to.

What made Hereditary stand out the most was the acting. If I've seen a stronger cast or more compelling acting in another horror film, I can't think of what it would be. They were all good, but Toni Collette was operating on another level entirely. It couldn't have been an easy performance, but she nailed it. I think this film would have been a miserable failure with even a somewhat less talented cast. The cast made the slow-moving first half tolerable, brought the characters to life, and delivered believable and intense performances.

For those who haven't seen Hereditary and are trying to decide if it is worthwhile, I'll offer two thoughts. First, I'll share what finally prompted me to see it. Another horror fan told me that if I appreciated slow-burn psychological horror films like Rosemary's Baby and The Witch I'd probably find Hereditary worthwhile. He was right. If you loved those films, you'll probably like this one. If you found them boring, you should probably skip this one. Second, while Hereditary was not perfect and did not live up to the hype surrounding it, I cannot think of a horror movie I saw for the first time in 2018 or 2019 that I thought was better. I've already added it to my horror collection.