Figuring out what the hell “Hereditary” was about from the trailer was a fun game in and of itself. A collage of creepy sequences, unsettling images and a heightened score. What was this movie? It seemed like a wild trip.
Now after having seen the movie, it’s somewhat disappointing that it all made so much sense.
Written and directed by Ari Aster, “Hereditary” is the story of a family working through the grieving process. Mother Annie (Toni Collete), father Steve (Gabriel Byrne), son Peter (Alex Wolff) and daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) all have different reactions to the death of Annie’s mother. As secrets from the past begin to percolate, the question of the family’s sanity begins to unfurl and more tragic events lead to disaster.
Toni Collette shines as Annie, keeping you on the edge of your seat with her desperation, her depression and her horror. As the film transitions from her point of view to that of Peter, we are nevertheless engaged emotionally with her journey most of all.
The trick for any good horror-mystery film is to build progression, and “Hereditary” does that expertly. Without giving anything away, the mystery of the grandmother’s death leads to questions about the family’s sanity which leads to building fears about their safety which leads to etc. This builds tension throughout and engages the audience.
However, the other trick of this type of horror film is to surprise the audience with a twist ending that changes the meaning of everything the audience had thought up to that point. Think about the endings of “Psycho” and “The Others” and “The Babadook”. We had thought one thing, then everything was flipped on its ear. And more than that, it was an earned surprise that rewarded us for our involvement with the story.
“Hereditary” has a twist ending, but it feels removed from the actual storyline of most of the film. Without giving too much away again, the death of a certain character at the 30-minute mark should have had far more bearing on the outcome of the story. That seems to be its own plot while the plot about the grandmother goes off in its own direction, creating two separate storylines that don’t intertwine to the extent they should and leaves the ending feeling muddled. In addition, the ending makes far too much sense and trivializes the excellent questions it had built up to that point. In short, instead of a “Wow!” there’s a general feeling of “Oh, that’s what it was about.”
Perhaps an additional viewing of “Hereditary” is needed to really gain perspective on what it was trying to accomplish, but the split in narrative focus seems to weigh it down. For now, it feels somewhat like a wasted opportunity, strong most of the time, but teetering at the conclusion.