The Exorcist. The Shining. Rosemary’s Baby. The Conjuring.
These are some of the greatest horror films in history, and their DNA is entwined with the newest entry to the pantheon of horror classics:
One sure sign you are dealing a true horror classic is how long it sticks with you after you’ve experienced it. Many days later, I am still thinking about Hereditary. This film has it all: brutal gore, disturbing imagery, elaborate plot, and fantastic acting. No frame is wasted; there are hints, foreshadowing, metaphor, and symbolism seemingly everywhere. As a result, you don’t just recall the gut-wrenching moments; entire scenes contort in your mind to bring new meaning that you didn’t initially catch. It is able, through its stellar camera work, ominous audio, and incredible acting, to create a very unsettling atmosphere that leaves you with a pervasive eerie feeling, even when nothing particularly disturbing is taking place. When considered from a bird’s eye view, the plot is incredibly basic and deals with concepts that have been touched on and plundered for decades in the horror genre. I won’t spoil anything here, but suffice it to say that sometimes simplicity, executed flawlessly, is the highest form of advancement.
Toni Collette delivers possibly the highest tier acting performance I’ve seen in a horror movie since Jack Nicholson in the Shining. For those that watched her in the United States of Tara, where she played multiple personalities of one character, her dominance of this performance is no surprise. Hereditary is the type of movie that could quickly have ended up in “cheesy” territory without a tour de force lead performance. Fortunately, that’s precisely what was delivered, and barring a miracle should easily get her a Best Actress Oscar. She is able to vacillate between crushing depression, sorrow, hope, and intensity in a manner few can. The female lead in a horror film has at times been a running trope of poor acting and in-film decision making, but these tropes are nowhere to be found in Hereditary. The rest of the cast does a great job, especially notable is Milly Shapiro, who plays the troubled Charlie.
In the small time since it’s release, I’ve heard numerous stories of people running out of the theater, being brought to tears, and being generally horrified by this movie. From what I gather, most of that is coming from the younger generation, experiencing for the first time what we did in the 70’s and 80’s: true horror. I’ve always found it difficult to explain to the younger generation how mortified people were at the Exorcist, the Shining, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in the 70’s and 80’s. Hereditary is the millennial equivalent of what those movies were to us, yet its impact is even more impressive due to the complete desensitization of our society in 2018. It is order of magnitudes more difficult to horrify a millennial than it was a Generation X kid in the 80’s; which makes Hereditary’s ability to do so even more impressive. Let me tell you, being a horror movie connoisseur at 41 years of age; I have seen it all. I am as jaded as a horror film viewer can possibly be, and this movie managed to rock me more than once, which is a feat in and of itself.
I first heard the term “slow-burn” in horror ascribed to one of my other favorite horror films: The Witch. What it means to be a slow-burn horror movie is that the story takes it’s time to develop, the atmosphere meticulously crafted to deliver a pervasive feeling of dread. Another relatively recent example was the exceptional Bone Tomahawk. These films generally don’t use much gore, and some have minimal body count; instead they rely on the environment, acting, story, and unease to craft their world. Hereditary, at over 2 hours, is quite long for a horror movie, but make no mistake, that 2 hours is there for a reason. No shots are wasted, and there is a lot of density to each scene, which you discover the more you reflect on earlier events once the journey is complete. My only criticism is that there is one small segment that ran a bit long in the middle, but the film quickly gets you right back into a stranglehold shortly thereafter. As mentioned earlier, the stellar framing, camera work, and audio combine to produce a sort of latent dread; scenes that you might think are just dull development points are crafted in such a way that they are never stale. When the most significant criticism you can lay on a film is that one or two scenes might have been slightly too long, that’s still pretty damn impressive.
Horror movies are some of the most polarizing, because what is considered “horrific” varies wildly from person to person. What I find terrible might not even bother you in the least. For some, it’s religious themes and iconography, for others it’s serial killers, and still, others want rampaging supernatural monstrosities. Therefore, in addition to our usual biases that we place on the things we view, horror movies are particularly susceptible to polarization because fear is a prime mover in our psyche. I’ve seen wildly varying opinion on this movie, but I consider this film a horror masterpiece. It pays homage to the classics, as you feel the influence of the Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, and more, yet it manages to forge it’s own path and never feels like a ripoff of the classics. Prepare yourself, and whatever you do, don’t take any kids to see this film.
Score: 9.5/10 - Masterpiece
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Steve is the author of Forging the Iron Mind, and is the founder and CEO of Americana Prime.