"Hereditary" Review

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I’m still speechless about what I saw coming out of the theater. Hereditary is the best horror film that I have seen in the theaters since 2016’s The Witch, which coincidentally was another horror film that A24 released from the same producer. The directorial debut of newcomer Ari Aster, this film signals a new filmmaker that you should keep an eye out for from now on following this release. Unsettling and tense at times, Hereditary is that type of film that slowly builds and builds until finally all hell breaks loose. Super creepy as well, this is a film that will stay with you long after the credits roll, and it might give you some nightmares along the way.

Without going into too much detail, since you should try and go to this as cold as possible, the film begins with the grandmother of the Graham family dying and her family members attending the funeral. After the funeral, Annie (Toni Collette) and her husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), and their children Peter (Alex Wolff) and Charlie (Milly Shapiro) start experiencing strange occurrences around them, which results in a tragic accident. In the midst of everything, Annie starts to uncover things about her ancestry and must figure out what’s happening to her family before its too late.

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To start off, this is Collette’s film through and through. This is a phenomenal performance that results in what could probably be her finest hour yet as an actress (if you must know, she and Byrne are also credited as executive producers of the film as well). Some of the scenes that Collette’s required to perform are absolute standouts, and for all the different types of ranges she goes through, she performs them all flawlessly. I wouldn’t be surprised if at the end of year, Collette is in the mix for award discussions. Another actor that stood out to me was Wolff, who turns in an impressive performance as Peter, as a man who slowly begins to lose his grip on the world. It’s safe to say that for his career so far, this is his best role yet (he’s way better in this then say Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle or Patriots Day). For her debut film, Shapiro as Charlie definitely plays up the creepy child vibe, but in a good way! Don’t be surprised if she blows up into a future star in Hollywood after this. Most of the characters are well rounded as Aster, who also wrote the film, peels back on the layers to get a sense of who these people are and how each are affected with what’s going on.

Hereditary is that type of horror film that I tend to enjoy a lot, which are those that take on a more psychological approach than having it shoved in your face and being too violent. In my book, horror films are much better if they show you creepy images or imply things rather than showing what happened. If you didn’t know that this was a feature length debut, you would think this was from a master class horror filmmaker. I loved the look that Aster and his cinematographer, Pawel Pogorzelski, came up with. Even though in theory the scenes have simple setups, the shots are meticulous, and for the most part, the only camera movements they employ are either pans or slow zooms in or out. Aster never over-cuts on the scene, but rather lets the scenes play themselves out; to the point where scenes start to get unsettling since you don’t know what’s going to happen next. The bluish tones that the film employs also represents the mood and mindsets our characters are going through. In addition, the use of silence in some of scenes help further the mindset of some of the characters. The sound design gets creepy at times, and the music from Colin Stenson hit the spot. I like the slow burn approach that Hereditary takes as it builds and builds until basically an all out assault, since it takes time to let us know who is who and we get to know them before things start to hit the fan.

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If there are any drawbacks that Hereditary has, it is that it may leave people scratching their heads about what’s going on. For a 127-minute film, it relies on you to figure things out on your own rather spelling things out. If you keep up with the dialogue, you should have a grasp in what’s going on. Speaking of scratching your heads, like The Witch, the end gets completely bonkers to the point that you are either on-board or not. The slow burn that the film takes might put people off, but trust me, keep with it and you will be rewarded greatly. 

Overall, A24 has another winner on its hands with Hereditary. If you can, try and go into the film cold outside of this review. The less you know about it, the better off you will be. Go see this in a packed theater. This film will give you the creeps, I will assure you of that. By the end of the film, you won’t be able to sleep with what you just saw. I thought going into the film I was getting one thing, but the film became something else than what I expected, with some of the themes and ideas that the film presents to us. I would definitely recommend this to you. Now it’s time to get some of these images out of my head.

Rating: B+

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Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.