Being a horror movie isn’t easy. Making a horror movie is even harder. But recognizing a great horror film, letting it do what it can to seep into your pores and consume your every waking moment, just feels impossible. The same thing won’t scare two different people, and even if those people are afraid for the same thing, that doesn’t mean those fears are triggered in the same way. And because of that, more methodical horror films – like the ones that A24 tends to release – often receive an overwhelming rejection from audiences who like to be frightened, not disturbed. Where some horror movies tell audiences when to be scared with the unexpected arrival of a piercing shriek or a thunderous banging, others are more content to let you just scare yourself, knowing that whatever’s on-screen could only pale in comparison to the places your mind might take you.
Ari Aster’s debut feature, Hereditary, is one such film. Starring Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, and newcomer Milly Shapiro as a family grieving the death of their mysterious, cold matriarch, Hereditary was recently slapped with the kiss of death for those particularly strange genre films blessed (and cursed) with a nationwide release: a D+ rating from good ol’ CinemaScore. If you’re unfamiliar, CinemaScore is an aggregator that hosts screenings, requiring each audience member to then fill out a brief survey, ultimately assigning the film a letter grade based on the average response. Horror movies get it the worst – another A24 release, It Comes At Night, received a D CinemaScore rating last year, despite overwhelming praise from critics.
The most noticeable commonality between these movies is that they’re often fairly slow-paced, and it seems like we’ve all agreed that “slow burn” is the accepted vernacular for this particular sub-genre of horror. Personally, I feel like there’s a negative connotation associated with that phrasing, but that’s neither here nor there. The point is, audiences just do not like slow burn movies, and they especially hate slow horror movies. There’s a million reasons why that’s the case, but I think the most important one is perhaps the most ironic. Horror fans simply do not like to be scared; not really, at least.
For the most part, our fears are instilled in us from a very young age. What we’re scared of often becomes a facet of who we are. At its very core, fear is trauma surfacing. And horror filmmakers are masters in the art of finding what makes each and every one of us tick. Go back to a movie like James Wan’s original Saw and just try to count how many different kinds of scares there. It’s astonishing how versatile that movie really is, especially in comparison with the increasingly repetitive nature of each subsequent sequel. Eventually, the violence works as a numbing agent. We become desensitized to the horror because, at a certain point, the film never lets us know or feel anything else.
And when I think of the classics – The Exorcist, Halloween, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Shining, Psycho, etc. – it’s hard not to think of those films as being “slow burns” by today’s standards. It’s at a point where I’m starting to think that slow burn is just code for, “this movie doesn’t have a loud noise every five minutes, therefore I refuse to give it my full attention.” And when so many horror movies feed into that impulse, it’s easy to have that inclination to refuse something different. But viewers who give themselves over to Hereditary and remain open to it are in for what is truly one of the most harrowing moviegoing experiences of all time.
Toni Collette turns in what is easily a career-best performance as Annie, a slowly unraveling shell of a person whose desperate search for peace will lead her to the depths of human existence. Surprisingly, Alex Wolff proves himself to be a formidable screen presence as her guilt-ridden son, descending helplessly into madness – The Naked Brothers Band this is not. The Kubrickian cinematography is as visually arresting as it is distancing, with Annie’s artwork functioning as a microcosmic examination of the family itself that ends up informing the film’s visual aesthetic. We see her processing tragedies and triumphs through miniaturized recreations of her life’s most memorable moments, capturing each moment with, as she puts it during one point, “a neutral view.”
It’s not that Hereditary is constantly bombarding you with “scares,” or working double time to be as needlessly disgusting as possible. Scary faces don’t pop out from the shadows, and there aren’t droves of string instruments emerging from the ether like they, too, were conjured from the deepest layers of Hell. Hereditary is a film that’s filled with the quiet kind of terror; the deafening silence that keeps you awake at night and convinces you to call out into the darkness expecting a response. It’s a movie that bends the fabric of reality with such force, some won’t help but begin to question their own sanity alongside the characters. It’ll leave you feeling dirty, rotten, and wholly unresolved, taking a piece of you, offering nothing in return but despair. In a word, Hereditary is pure, unadulterated evil.
I arrived home from the theater in a daze. Walking inside, I was greeted by an isolating darkness. Everyone was gone, the only sounds I could hear being the clock on the wall and the ringing in my ears. Frozen, I found the nearest light switch, letting each bright bulb guide me through the halls of this suddenly unfamiliar structure. I examined every wall, every corner, every tabletop, and every tile as if it were the first time. I felt eyes on me that weren’t there, knowing my mind was playing tricks and hoping to God that I was right. But when I got to the last room in the house, the corners of my eyes went wild as my hand reached for the switch, and saw everything I didn’t want to see. For some reason, I just laughed to myself and thought, “yeah, maybe that D+ wasn’t so off base.”
|Producer: PalmStar Media • Distributor: A24 • MPAA Rating: R • Release Date: June 8th, 2018|
|8.7||When the matriarch of the Graham family passes away, her daughter’s family begins to unravel cryptic and increasingly terrifying secrets about their ancestry.|
|The Good||Toni Collette gives yet another Oscar-worthy performance that will go completely unnoticed by the Academy, yet again.|
|The Bad||I mean, besides the way I felt afterwards?|
|The Ugly||So many ants…|
|Portal 13 reviews movies on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.|