DirkH’s review published on Letterboxd:
'Not even a horror movie'
'It redefines the genre'
'This generation's Exorcist'
Just four snippets I picked up from reviews read after seeing Hereditary. I'd say those four bits embody what's wrong with how we view horror films.
Horror is and will probably always be my favourite genre. And there's a lot wrong with it. At least, in my PERSONAL opinion. Most horror films focus on scaring people. Which is fine, but also very easy, more often than not making them predictable and rather boring. Terrifying someone, now there's a challenge.
Another thing that tends to happen is that filmmakers apparently feel the need to create something completely unique. It's of course a good thing to strive for originality, but it's not necessary to forcefully chase that 'redefining the genre' label. Just, you know, make a good film.
Hereditary doesn't try hard. And that is its saving grace. It also doesn't try to be scary. And that makes it absolutely terrifying.
There are only a handful of films out there that have the capacity to truly unnerve me by getting under my skin in the nastiest of ways. Ari Aster's magnificent film does this at first by investing in his characters and subsequently putting them through the wringer and thusly taking his audience with them in their horrifying ordeal.
Plot-wise Hereditary is in no way original. It borrows a lot from many sources that are easily recognisable (of which Rosemary's Baby is a much more obvious choice than The Exorcist), but it never strays from its own convictions. It just tries to be a good film, its own thing, not some pastiche of influences.
Hereditary is made up of two parts, the set up and the finish. The set up is slow, deliberate and so dedicated to paint a thorough yet mysterious family picture. These characters feel human, because they are well written, but especially because they are superbly acted. Wolff and Shapiro are outstanding. They have a natural way about them that is very pleasant to watch. Collette will be sorely overlooked and forgotten in the award season. This might seem like an odd thing to say, but her performance in this film is stellar. She has a couple of monologues here that will be hard to top by anyone this year. And there is a handful of scenes that are terrifying, purely because of her performance. But I was most impressed by Byrne. I hadn't seen him in ages, but the calm and restraint he emanates here is both soothing and terrifying as he turns into our link to the story.
The finish is perhaps the weakest part as it tends to be a bit too trope dependent. But the dead-pan way with which certain horrific scenes are visualised and the subtlety of horrors looming in the dark make the final act very effective.
It's not one thing that makes Hereditary so unnerving. It is the amalgamation of visuals, music, sounds, performances and pacing that turns this into a slow, deliberate, nightmarish stalker. One that does not let go, one that is intent on making you feel as uncomfortable as possible. Without mercy.
If horror to you is jump scares and gore, look elsewhere. If horror to you is feeling the need to look over your shoulder, wanting to leave your seat because you can't take the suspense, opening up to the possibility of being terrified and and simply admiring the craft of storytelling, watch Hereditary.