Ethan Lyon’s review published on Letterboxd:
1st Ari Aster (followed by Midsommar)
Rewatched because my housemate had never seen it and wanted someone to watch it with. Was also a chance for me to reconsider Hereditary in the context of me watching Midsommar, a film I despised. Watching it this time around, my reasons for liking and disliking this film became, ultimately, much clearer. I feel there's a number of outstanding elements here. I still think the score is great, especially the magisterial 'Reborn' that caps the final ten minutes of utter insanity. Collette gives less a performance and more a force of nature. She should have won big awards for it, so intense and compelling is her portrayal of a supremely toxic person. Gabriel Byrne's Steve is a much more subtle role, but he certainly felt like a larger presence than on first watch. He's ineffective but loving, and like the first time round I feel saddest for him and Peter, two fundamentally decent people caught up in the emotional vortex of those around them.
But what sticks out more glaringly is how unfocused and cold Hereditary feels. There are a number of interesting ideas floating around about the nature of grief, of emotional manipulation and toxicity and how abuse carries on beyond the grave. You can see the witch cult as an extension of this, but it isn't well integrated into the film. We don't know enough about the cult for them to function as little more as a spooky final reveal; very unsettling in their appearance and machinations but nothing we can grab onto as spectators, much as the cultists in Midsommar are little more than a plot device to move the turgid psychodrama along. Here, the emotions are more easily recognisable and relatable, but they are trapped in the hermetic universe of Aster's cinephilia. Aster is a tremendous cinematic talent in utero, who knows how to write good dialogue, coax a great performance and stage a scene visually to extract a great deal of tension. But all of these things are neutralised by the repeated and obvious nods to films like The Shining, Un Chien Andalou and most blatantly Blue Velvet. These moments add to the overall smugness of the film, and this coldness always keeps me at a reserve from truly empathising with these people.
In the past few weeks, I've been part of conversations on here that have danced around the issue of morality when watching older exploitation films. The Evil Dead, for example, with the tree rape scene, something I find really objectionable. Other people find the scene very enjoyable, revelling in its perversity. I don't understand that point of view, but I know that there are those who would openly criticise someone who would say something of that sort. Something tells me that this sort of critical presence would find Hereditary, with its aestheticised moments of provocation, far more worthy of appreciation. Yet this speaks to a deep hatred of the ugly and the capacity for ugliness that cinema can provide. Some people would like the uncomfortable or disturbing to be presented in the slick chocolate-box stylings of mainstream indie cinema, to perhaps provide a boundary to the uncomfortable bodily sensations we all contain. We can reject it if it looks pretty. But this beauty is wrapped in the hangover of 90s postmodernism, soured to nihilistic cynicism. It is a pose, one that cushioned by a privilege that goes 'oh well, this is the way the world is, isn't it awful, can't help it' while others around them are being burned or beaten or starved to death. I'm not saying that the people who like this film are guilty of having this ideology- rather, as I said with Midsommar, I feel this film leans heavily into it because of Aster and his complacency and lack of emotional intelligence.
So, give me Romero, give me Hooper, give me Zombie. Give me directors who at least know of the capacity to human ugliness, but still offer a strange optimism towards human resilience or social interaction. Give me filmmakers with compassion. It's what audiences deserve.