‘When a film like this comes along, it’s a beautiful reminder that horror films can still be made effectively’
2018 in Cinema:
Directed by: Ari Aster
Starring: Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd, Gabriel Byrne
After the death of her grandmother, Annie (Toni Collette) soon finds her life turned upside down again as her daughter, Charlie (Milly Shapiro) is killed. Struggling to cope with their losses, she is befriended by Joan (Ann Dowd) who teaches her the act of communicating with the dead, unfortunately for Annie, though, it seems something has entered their house as a result.
While that paragraph of description could be thrown at almost any Ouija style films, Hereditary is so much more than a cheap, nasty jump-scare fuelled film about a poltergeist. For a start, there are no obvious jump scares in this film (something which is really refreshing in the genre) and the pacing is a lot slower, allowing for the emotions and actions of characters to be more justified. I love slower paced horror films (the recent A Quiet Place and 2014’s It Follows offer a similarly slow pacing and are both very well received by myself and critics) as it invites you into a story involving characters. I felt for Steve (Gabriel Byrne), Annie’s husband, as he has to try and keep the family together in their darkest hour, combining the desire to humour Annie with her Ouija experiment and the sensible nature to attempt to seek help for her. I also felt for Peter (Alex Wolff), Annie and Steve’s eldest child, as he is the reason that Charlie is killed and the aftermath of the Ouija experiment seems to target him. He is emotionally distraught throughout the whole film and we can invest in his fight for survival.
There is also a great sense of history in this film; from Ellie’s life before she died to a moment in the past involving Annie nearly murdering Peter in a sleepwalking moment of madness (which also adds more tension to the family while they struggle to cope over Charlie’s death). Nearly everything involved in this film from a dialogue point of view seems important, even if, like myself, you ignore some facts they can help piece together the ending, and while I won’t spoil the ending, it certainly is a head-twister.
But while the characters of Peter and Steve are very well done, the acting from Toni Collette is beautiful. She, like Peter, goes through a hellacious ordeal during this film, from her mother’s death to her daughter’s death to the aftermath of the Ouija experiment, her character is on a roller coaster journey and Collette handles it beautifully.
As mentioned earlier, there are no jump scares in this film (at least no obvious ones), and, as a result, it houses one of my favourite moments in a horror film. Towards the end, and I’ll try to be as vague as possible to avoid spoilers, we see Peter waking up and sitting up in his bed, the scene is in total silence, but in the corner behind, if you look extremely closely, you can spot that something is there. It’s not brought up in the scene, and it uses this trick a few times later on, but this scene had me examining the wallpaper to prove to myself that there was something there (it’s so dark that it’s difficult to spot unless you’re looking for it). That moment of realisation that something is there, along with a few other scenes (mainly Peter being chased into the attic) are absolutely terrifying. And they do not use jump scares. In most modern-day horror films the figure in the corner would have been more noticeable or a loud noise would have accompanied its reveal, but Ari Aster, in his debut film, seems to understand true horror (even if most audience members do not necessarily agree, with the Rotten Tomatoes score for critics at 92% and audiences down at 58%). Most viewers of horror films expect a scary monster to be accompanied by loud noises, as a loud noise is somehow scary, but when a film like this comes along, it’s a beautiful reminder that horror films can still be made effectively.
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