Film review: Hereditary

Hereditary (2018) directed by Ari Aster

“Scariest film of the decade!”
“As good as The Exorcist!”
“The spookiest masterpiece of the year!”

Or so some film critics have said. I beg to differ. Hereditary is an entertaining and, at times, startlingly beautiful horror film with great cinematography, electrifying acting, and a bold screenplay. But alas, the heir to The Exorcist it is not.

Firstly, the simple fact is that no horror film can ever be as extraordinary as The Exorcist (which I consider to be a nigh-perfect film). Secondly, Hereditary is just not that frightening! Despite its disturbing atmosphere, the film falters due to its preoccupation with 19th century style American spiritualism, with its séances and ideomotor effects and gibberish Latin. That stuff simply isn’t particularly scary. It’s silly, Sam Raimi-style horror schlock.

Yet these are only venial sins. There are some gut-wrenching scenes of family drama and Toni Collette’s performance is an electrifying highlight. Hereditary even has some thematic teeth, with the film’s central concept being that of fate. The plot is essentially a Greek tragedy (it even outright mentions Sophocles near the start of the film, since who needs subtlety) that poses the following question: If you have no control over the suffering that befalls you—that is, the Fates have threaded your doom—is it really a tragedy? Does the inevitably of torment make it more or less horrifying?

Hereditary turns over this notion of an inevitable tragedy like a worry stone throughout its runtime. This idea of fate manifests in the film’s exploration of mental illness running through the family. This idea also manifests in its final plot reveal that…

…every aspect of family’s grief and suffering was masterminded by a cabal of naked cultists in order to summon a demonic deity.
Bloody hell.

It’s worth a watch. But if you find it extremely terrifying, I’ll judge your emotional fortitude as a human being forever.

A brief aside: Since I can’t help myself, I’ll briefly log my views on the 1973 classic horror film The Exorcist. It’s a friggin’ masterpiece. The practical effects are horrific. The dialogue is unforgettable. And I (an atheistic heathen) found its gradual descent from the cool rationality of modern medicine into a desperate plea for faith utterly compelling. Max von Sydow shows up at the end and completely steals the show in less than 20 seconds flat.

But let me explain what the film is *really* about: It’s a film about having a gusty work ethic. Seriously. The Exorcist culminates in two blokes knuckling down for the long night—that is, two priests confronting the physical manifestation of supreme evil itself with nothing but their wits and belief system. It’s about kids pulling all-nighters to get their essays done. It’s about political operatives hunkering down to get the votes through. It’s about the surgeons settling in for a multi-hour procedure. It’s Apollo 13 with demons. It’s every test-of-endurance sports film ever made, but with more Catholicism.

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