Home > Movies > Hereditary: Understanding the Slow Build

Hereditary: Understanding the Slow Build

Hereditary is a hot candidate for the best overall film of 2018. A slow, meticulous start makes way for what is quite possibly the most original and compelling horror film of the last twenty years.

Truly kick-ass horror films are few and far between, with mediocre additions to the genre popping up on almost a daily basis. Terrible casting, bad acting, worse direction, and generic M-rated plots with lazy, sequel-orientated open endings churned out for the masses are the widely accepted norm. Hereditary is anything but a normal horror movie, and is totally kick-ass.

Check out the official trailer from production company A24 here… (then keep reading).

If your unfortunate idea of a true horror movie is a slasher film filled with popcorn jump-scares, Hereditary will not be your jam. Alternately, if you like cerebral, psychological horror, and don’t mind a bit of a wait to get to the meat of the issue and also admire all the craft involved in top-shelf cinema, acting mastery and expert level storytelling; then this film will deliver for you like no horror film has delivered in a very, very long time.

The film has received lots of flak from food-court audiences for taking too long to heat up, and many have been unable to decipher the supposedly cryptic ending. Yet those with an appreciation for film and all the various craft involved in making such a feature have praised Hereditary; many calling it The Exorcist for a new generation.

As a reviewer with a solid love of the horror genre, and who also has a tremendous soft-spot in his heart for the mother of all great horror movies (The Exorcist – the original, not the second-rate directors cut), I can truly see the comparison. Both are shocking and original in their own unique way, both have an exceptionally slow build, culminating in unspeakably terrifying ways. Both have extraordinary performances by female leads, and both are demonic to the core.

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Linda Blair playing Satan himself in 1973’s groundbreaking masterpiece The Exorcist (Source: Warner Bros).

Neither of these films are the kind of flick’s you’d take someone out to see on a first date, so I can absolutely see why the popcorn crowd are pissed. Yet their arguments could be likened to that of small children having to sit through Apocalypse Now or The Godfather, then getting disgruntled because things weren’t half as exciting as Herbie Goes Bananas.

It’s a brilliant piece of cinema – and there is nothing cryptic about it. Once you’ve watched it in its entirety you realize there can only be one reason why anything transpired like it did. It’s nothing like a metaphor-driven David Lynch film (this comparison has been made), and nothing is left to interpretation. It is both brutal and beautiful in its final revelations – and it will have you thinking back to the boring parts, with the words ‘oh shit – that’s why that happened’ turning over in the back of your mind for days.

The film is written and directed by young filmmaker Ari Aster (31 years old), who has classed himself as being “obsessed with horror movies.” Since 2011 he has cut his teeth making episodes of Funny or Die and short films such as The Strange Thing About the Johnsons and Munchausen, as well as a host of other 30-minute shorts. Available to watch HERE.

Hereditary is Aster’s remarkable full-length feature directorial debut.

In a recent interview, the writer/director gave an insight on why the first part of the movie is so slow. “There was certainly a conscious decision to separate the film into two halves that are also completely inextricable from each other, where the two parts actually are the same movie,” Aster said. “I wanted to make a film that served as a serious meditation on grief and trauma. It begins as a family tragedy, and then continues down that path, but gradually curdles into a full-bore nightmare—in the same way that life can really feel like a nightmare, like everything is falling apart.”

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Young director Ari Aster (left) at work (Source A24).

Aster is not lying, as it definitely does feel like two separate films stuck together, then finalized with stuff of nightmares. In the first hour of this film you could be forgiven for thinking you had wasted your money. It is slow and harrowing and feels like it might never get off the ground. Yet you could never, ever guess at what is to come; and how every seemingly boring plot-point along the way is about to be upended into a diabolical, disturbing and rollicking story of betrayal, blood and fire – where every dark question is answered by a complex, sensical and utterly complete script (a rare thing in horror movie scripts these days).

This slow build, as mentioned, is a huge turn-off for many, but to elaborate further, there is a method in its madness. The story gradually morphs from what feels like stereotypical contemporary horror, where nothing much seems to be really happening (this is obviously a clever ruse to trick you into thinking it’s going to be just another run of the mill ‘family in supernatural peril’ story), then amplifies the tension to bursting point, kicking into third gear and forcibly grabbing your flailing attention by the nuts. By the time it shifts into fourth gear you’ve already been violently harangued into an edge of your seat rollercoaster ride to depths of Hell itself, and it doesn’t let up. It never lets up!

So, no matter what you initially think while sitting through this elongated, elaborate intro; just wait it out and buckle right in for the long haul. I promise you this film totally delivers!

The acting is superb, with every performer going above and beyond. Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, and Milly Shapiro all shine in their respective co-star roles, yet it is veteran Australian actress Toni Collette who delivers the most disturbing and memorable performances in this film, and undoubtedly the greatest performance of her career.

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Master-chameleon Toni Collete displaying what terror truly looks like in Hereditary (Source: A24).

This is Academy Award material right here – and even though it is a horror movie, and she doesn’t play anyone who has gender issues, who is disabled, or is part of some oppressed minority – we truly hope the politically correct ‘elite’ at the Academy could somehow get past their genre bias, substitute virtue signaling for realism, and hand Toni Collette the golden statuette next time they roll out the red carpet? And while they are at it – how about Ari Aster for best screenplay? If the merely passable racial quasi-horror Get Out can win the best screenplay in 2018, what about the far superior and vastly more original Hereditary in 2019? This makes total sense.

Toni Collette is nothing short of astounding in Hereditary, and deserves all accolades available to a genius-level performance from a lead actress in a feature film. She takes what would already have been a highly complex role on paper, then beats it into something so terrifying and multi-layered that it’s almost impossible to look away from on screen – even when you just want to hide behind your hands and fade into your seat to make the bad lady stop.

Collette’s vast range of extreme facial expressions are disturbingly astounding, while her unique take on grief and terror is unprecedented. She pulls no punches, and her performance is still haunting me a week after seeing the film – which was undoubtedly her aim.

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Toni Collette giving more of her best in Hereditary (Source: A24).

In an era where half-assed, overrated, cryptic horror like The Babadook and The Witch are praised for being the defining horror movies of this generation, then it is only fair that a tour de force of terror like Hereditary should be celebrated for what it truly is – next level horror of the highest order, and far, far above any of these weaker contemporary comparisons.

If you haven’t already seen it, grab someone else who loves film, get your tickets, get your popcorn – then sit back and dig in. If you have a brain in your head you’ll endure the ‘build’ to eventually be terrified-beyond-silly by a dazzling stand-alone horror movie that true lovers of the genre have waited twenty years to see.

A solid 4 stars out of 5.

Hereditary is currently screening in theatres globally.

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