Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Review of HEREDITARY: Dark and Discombobulating

June 21, 2018

Horror films come in many forms. Over the years, there had been adventure horror films ("Cloverfield," "Anaconda"), comedy horror films ("Scream," "Scary Movie"), religious horror films ("The Exorcist," "Rosemary's Baby"), crime horror films ("Saw," "Silence of the Lambs"), or science fiction horror films ("Alien," "Life"), among the more common kinds. But once in a rare while you will encounter a horror film that defies any specific form of horror classification. "Hereditary" is one of those. 

Miniature artist Annie Graham lived with her husband Steve and their two kids, teenage son Peter and 13-year old daughter Charlie. Annie was already undergoing a major emotional crisis when her mom Ellen passed away, when another unspeakably shocking death followed within a few days which pushed her into a major breakdown. Annie tried advice from a friendly lady from the grief support group Joan (Anne Dowd) on how to move on, but mysterious events continue to escalate within their household.

As Annie, Toni Collette seethed with with bottled-up anger and frustration for the first half of the film, until she just erupted with pure emotional fire in that dinner table scene. That would remind people that she once had an Oscar acting nomination in 1999 as Cole's mother in "The Sixth Sense." Collette totally dominated this movie with the paranoia and hysteria that ate at her with ghastly consequence. She did have some awkward scenes, like the seance or the fireplace, probably because of how they were written.

The last film I remember Gabriel Byrne in was "The Usual Suspects" and that was way back 1995. He never had another role of consequence after that that is why I did not recognize him at once as Annie's reticent husband Steve. He also did not really do much here though.

I was distracted that the actor playing Peter, Alex Wolff, did not really look like he could be the son of Collette and Byrne. As a teenager consumed by traumatizing guilt, Wolff had a very challenging role to portray, but it tended to be uneven, especially those scenes where he was sobbing. On the other hand, Milly Shapiro, in her film debut, played the withdrawn youngest daughter Charlie. With her unusual facial features, Shapiro was able to effectively project Charlie's troubled soul. 

Annie had a fascinating job making miniature dioramas. That gave a unique set design that felt like their whole house was one of the doll houses Annie was building, like there was some outside sinister force playing them. The cinematography in near pitch black, as well as the unobstrusive musical score, were both very arthouse in approach, but for me, effectively done. I don't know if the sound was purposely toned down to almost whispers, but at times the words were not clear enough to understand.

Despite the effort to create a sense of realism to enhance the dramatic tension, there were a number of scenes that were not logical in reality, like how major accidents were processed by authorities or how severe physical injuries were managed medically. Also, that crazy off-the-wall ending is bound to polarize audiences, definitely not for everybody. I also have a feeling that many may hate it because of its glacial pace and quietness. 

This film written and directed (in his feature debut) by Ari Aster had a dark and oppressive atmosphere from beginning to end, and this was its most distinctive and unsettling character. The horror was happening in more than one level, and you are never sure where it was coming from until some revelations in the final scenes. Even then, you would still leave the theater boggled about the intense, nightmarish experience you just went through the past 127 minutes. I liked it because I got creeped out. Despite its plot faults, it gets its job done as a horror film for me. 7/10. 

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