I’ve seen a 2018 horror film about a troubled family. And it’s a thrilling crowd-pleaser, full of suspense and heart. Scary but not too scary, violent but not too violent, with lovable characters everyone can root for. Everyone’s gonna like it. Fun for the whole family!
That movie is called “A Quiet Place,” and it opened about two months ago.
“Hereditary,” opening this weekend, is not that. It’s vile. An emotionally abusive and ingeniously cruel film — a cinematic masterclass in making you feel bad about everything forever.
You could accurately call the movie “scary.” (It’s the scariest movie of the year by default.) But a better word for “Hereditary” — the stunning debut feature of writer/director Ari Aster — is traumatizing.
The film features images you’ll wish you could unsee, plumbs emotions you’ll wish you could unfeel. It has maybe the worst death in any movie ever and the second-worst death, too.
It’s a Satanic jack-in-the-box horror- show, but one grounded in the white-hot terror of everyday human suffering.
This review is less a recommendation (although it is also a recommendation, a strong one) than it is a dare.
“Hereditary” possesses the power to ruin your life for a little while, in the way only the best and most evil horror movies can.
“Hereditary” is a brutally effective fusion of a few recent trends in independent and studio horror movies.
It comes from A24, the uber-cool distributor behind the well-reviewed scary movies “The Witch” and “It Comes at Night.”
But “Hereditary” is more approachable than either of those movies, splitting the difference between the more challenging arthouse horror movies and recent old-fashioned studio successes like James Wan’s excellent “Conjuring” films.
It’s the best of both worlds (or the worst, depending on your inclinations): It’s a brilliant piece of filmmaking with a lot on its mind that doesn’t forget to deliver the genre goods.
The Graham family has just lost grandma Ellen, a strange and secretive woman who suffered from dissociative identity disorder near the end of her life.
Ellen’s daughter, Annie (Toni Collette, in an Oscar-worthy performance), is guiltily relieved that her awful mom is gone. Annie’s children — pothead high-schooler Peter (Alex Wolff) and unnervingly bizarre tween Charlie (Milly Shapiro) — are mourning in their own weird ways. Annie’s husband, Steve (Gabriel Byrne), remains a level-headed source of calm who keeps his emotionally fragile family functioning (he’s a psychologist, which comes in handy).
There’s just something off about this family. About the uncanny but beautiful country home where they live. About the way that strangers look at them. About the mysterious words and symbols scrawled on their surroundings.
Charlie is an especially odd child, prone to compulsively clucking her tongue, decapitating dead birds and seeing fiery visions of her late grandmother.
Something bad happens to the Grahams. Like all-timer bad. Run-from-the-theater bad. Why-am-I-watching-this bad. Something made all the more horrifying for how plausible it seems.
The Grahams unravel, particularly Annie, whose family had a history of mental illness even in the best of times.
Annie makes a friend named Joan (Ann Dowd). Joan has ulterior motives (never trust a character played by Ann Dowd).
The supernatural elements creep into the film slowly — late-night visions, bumps in the night. Gradually, we graduate to seances, possessions, spontaneous combustion and, finally, a bloody, bawdy bacchanal of intertwining plot threads and artfully severed heads.
Aster’s script isn’t especially original. It’s reminiscent, if not derivative, of other good horror movies, as recent as “The Babadook” and “Kill List” and as classic as “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Shining.”
The movie loses its sense of place (and pace) a bit in the middle stretch, its characters wandering around a labyrinth of dread while they wait for the finale to arrive.
Minor grumbles aside, “Hereditary” is still one of the best horror movies in a very long time, thanks to the skill of its craft and the uncompromising boldness of its misery.
1. It goes places that most movies, even horror movies, are too afraid to go. The devil stuff is fun, in an awful sort of way, but “Hereditary” is just as interested in real-life horrors. The film’s characters are consumed with grief and guilt, fearful of inheriting the mental illness that runs in the family.
Aster films his perfectly cast cast in long takes, pushing them (especially Collette and Wolff) into performances that exist somewhere between acting and nervous breakdown.
2. The filmmaking is unbelievably assured for a debut feature. Aster makes images that sear themselves into the brain. And unlike a lot of directors, he’s able to integrate his aesthetics into the ideas of the movie.
For instance, the film’s opening shot pans around a dollhouse and slowly moves into a room, where we find the Graham family going about their day.
Annie is an artist of miniature dioramas, and time and time again, Aster keeps us guessing as to what we’re seeing. Is it the family’s house or one of Annie’s models? There’s just something wrong about the interiors and exteriors of the house itself. Something too planned, too manicured.
The visuals offer a devilish parallel to the film’s plot and subtext: That the Grahams are little more than the pawns in a perfectly controlled environment. Dolls in a dollhouse run by an unseen entity. Ignorant of and powerless against the hidden forces that run their lives and unable to stop the dreaded fate that awaits us all.
Anyways, have a good time at the movies this weekend.
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“Paddington 2” is one of those rare sequels (and very rare children’s movie sequels) where the second installment improves on the first. The follow-up to the 2014 film is warm, charming and visually inventive in all the ways of its predecessor but just a bit more so in every department. Read more
“Call Me By Your Name” is a movie that values atmosphere over incident, and its deliberate pace will prove plodding for some. But if you allow yourself to get caught up in the love story, you’ll find a film with a wealth of feeling too big for words. Read more
If "Heat" smelled like a strip club and replaced Pacino/De Niro with Leonidas/Pornstache, it might look (and smell) a little something like "Den of Thieves." And if you’re wondering whether I mean that as an insult or a compliment, my answer is yes. Read more
Even Cormac McCarthy fans might struggle with the unrelenting pain of “Hostiles,” a grim ’n’ grimy new Western from professional sadist Scott Cooper. Read more
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Nominated for seven Oscars: Best Picture, Best Costume Design, Best Original Score, Best Original Song, Best Production Design, Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing.
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But Ava DuVernay’s big-budget adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s classic children’s book “A Wrinkle in Time” is a clumsy, clunky mess and one of the most disappointing movies of this still-young year. Read more
Nominated for one Oscar: Best Visual Effects.
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Casting notorious hothead Shia LaBeouf as notorious hothead John McEnroe was admittedly an inspired choice. It’s the first one, last one, only one that “Borg vs. McEnroe” makes. Read more
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There’s an irresistible hook at the heart of “The Endless” — the new indie horror movie from filmmakers Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (“Spring,” “Resolution”). The hook involves time loops, Lovecraftian monsters and UFO death cults. Read more
A heartbreaking bruise of a movie, “Lean on Pete” takes the hoary templates of the coming-of-age drama and the boy-and-his-horse adventure and subverts them again and again. What we’re left with is something sturdy and hurtful — a modern-day Western that canters along at a deliberate pace while slowly building up to explosions of suspense and violence. Read more
"You Were Never Really Here"
On paper, this is the greatest movie I’ve ever seen. In execution, it’s ... I don’t know. Read more
PG-13 movies, at most, get one F-bomb, and “Breaking In” spends its single use of the word well. In the finale, the film’s star, Gabrielle Union, drops the solo **** at just the right moment for maximum, crowd-pleasing impact. There will be applause. Read more
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"Solo: A Star Wars Story"
Nominated for one Oscar: Best Visual Effects.
If you want to know how Han met Chewie, and if you want to know more about the 12-parsec Kessel Run, and if you just want to be generally entertained for two-ish hours this weekend, then, yes, of course, see the new “Star Wars” movie “Solo.” Read more
Nominated for one Oscar: Best Original Screenplay.
As the ecological apocalypse approaches, a man sits alone in the room of an old church — drinking, praying, wondering if God can forgive us. He is also, ever so slowly, making a plan. Read more
I’ve seen a 2018 horror film about a troubled family. And it’s a thrilling crowd-pleaser, full of suspense and heart. Scary but not too scary, violent but not too violent, with lovable characters everyone can root for. Everyone’s gonna like it. Fun for the whole family! Read more
Get a carefree screenplay. Pair it with a bunch of movie stars and a competent director. Add a Kim Kardashian cameo. Shake it. Stir it. Let it sit ... voila. You’ve got “Ocean’s 8,” 110 frothy minutes of diversion (and with a side of air-conditioning!). Read more
Nominated for one Oscar: Best Animated Film.
It’s been 14 years since the first “Incredibles” movie. Was the sequel worth the wait? Definitely. It’s not quite as fresh or inventive as the first film, but it’s close enough. Read more
"Won't You Be My Neighbor?"
At this particular moment, Fred Rogers’ message of love and kindness, dignity and respect and equality and, most of all, his reverence and wonder for childhood ... at this particular moment, that message hits so hard it hurts. Read more
"Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom"
Cash-grab movie franchises are a lot like leftover Applebee’s chicken tenders.
Warm ’em up in the microwave after the right amount of time has passed, they’re still pretty good. If you’re lucky, reheating the meal might even extract some heretofore untasted flavors.
But if you double-dip. If you re-refrigerate your leftovers and some time later head back in for a sequel to your better-than-expected reboot, well, you’re just asking for trouble, my friend. Read more
"Sicario: Day of the Soldado"
“Day of the Soldado” has about the same number of action set pieces as the first film, and they’re well-executed and suspenseful. Just not as well-executed and suspenseful as those in the first film. Read more
The summer of “Eh, it was alright” continues with “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” a film that feels like — and, in fact, is — the 20th entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Read more