Saturday, September 15, 2018

Movie Reviews: Hereditary

Hereditary
directed by Ari Aster
Now this is how horror movies should be done. 
Calling Hereditary a horror film doesn't really do it justice as many modern genre films have often been excuses to showcase nubile, buff actors in various stages of undress being slaughtered in increasing inventive yet ultimately boring ways. This is a throwback horror film that reaches back to the classics. Think about such films as Rosemary's Baby or The ExorcistHereditary's scares are as much psychological and emotional as they are of the supernatural variety. There's not any cheap violence here. Sex is non-existent. Some might argue that sexual urges manifest themselves in other, more Freudian, ways, but that's up to the viewer's interpretation. There are few movies, especially horror movies, that really leave much of an impression on me. This one did. It might do the same thing for the viewer. 

I didn't realize it initially, but this film shares some DNA with the movie The Sixth Sense, and not just because Toni Collette was in both films. Each film has some insights about family, loss and parenthood, or more specifically motherhood. There's also a possible connection with Stephen King's scary short story, "Gramma" and the Rob Zombie movie The Lords of Salem.

We are each the sum of our experiences and genetics plus that something extra that different people quantify in different ways. Genetics and family environment can leave a heavy mark on people, for good or for bad. Hereditary digs deep into these questions. It would be an emotionally heavy film even without any supernatural overtones. Hereditary mostly eschews the jump scares for some some real terrors. Have you ever lost anyone you loved? Have you lost someone you loved long before you thought their time was up? Both experiences can hurt very badly. 


Yet, it's often an ugly truth that learning that great-uncle so-and-so, whom you haven't seen since your second cousin's confirmation forty years prior, died at ninety-eight after a long illness and decline is a bit different from coming home and hearing that your spouse, whom you just spoke to an hour ago, was killed in a freak accident on a construction site.  

Both events hurt. But they would impact most people very differently. Hereditary examines how the emotions of guilt, grief, anger and shame following a loss can impact a family. Perhaps instead of impact the right word is "infect".  In Cooley High's closing and most intense scene Preach waits until after the funeral to visit the grave of his dead friend Cochise. Preach reads poetry, pours out some wine, cries, and reminisces. But then he says "I gotta go." I thought that line was was the film's most powerful. No matter what life is for the living.  We can't look backwards or live our lives for the departed. We must go forward and live for ourselves. Hereditary asks us to imagine what if that weren't the case.

Annie Graham (Toni Collette) is a work-from home artist. She builds and sells miniature dioramas and houses. The film skillfully uses lens and camera work to blur the distinction between Annie's work and her home. The viewer may think he's watching one world or the other before the perspective changes. Aster did this a lot but it was important to the story. At the film's open Graham is giving the eulogy for her recently deceased mother, Ellen. It's apparent that Annie didn't love her mother. And the feeling may have been mutual. Ellen was a strange woman with stranger interests who could be mean and dismissive. Annie's eulogy is halting and perfunctory. Annie lives with her husband  Steve (Gabriel Byrne) a psychiatrist, and their two children, older son Peter (Alex Wolff) and younger daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro). Charlie is a weird kid. She's extremely introverted and/or possibly emotionally or intellectually stunted. Or maybe she's not.


Maybe it's Annie who is the problem. Annie is the very picture of maternal ambivalence with at least one of her children (in an emotionally draining scene) and possibly both of them. Annie spends a great deal of time away from her family in a locked room working on her dioramas. She might be missing a few things going on in her family.

Or not. Events that occur to the family often show up in Annie's dioramas. Although she claims to accept her mother's demise Annie is not entirely truthful. She goes to emotional support meetings for grieving people. Annie keeps this a secret from Steve. Well you know what they say, it's not the crime but the cover-up which brings people down.  Around this time the movie starts to play a cat and mouse game. Are we watching mental illness or something more sinister? Three of the family members see things that aren't there. Writing in dead languages appears on walls. Joan (Ann Dowd), an older woman Annie meets from her support group, may have some answers for Annie. 

This movie may leave you guessing about what just happened or what you saw. It doesn't spoon feed you the answers or the director's preferred interpretation. Hereditary's secret weapon is the musical score. The music adds to the film's sense of dread and fear without ever being intrusive. Some of Hereditary's most powerful and unsettling scenes involve  offscreen horrors. You hear or see people react to what you hope didn't happen. Some events hit you like a gut punch. Powerful stuff. You may or may not like this film. But it's not like other modern horror movies. It's personal even as it relies upon some old themes.
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