'Hereditary', a horror film with pretensions of being erudite and profound, is more ill-formed than informed. It is one of those shiver givers that just doesn't know where to stop. Filled with cryptic signs and ominous symbols, borrowed from heretical mythology it tries to use the humdrum atmosphere of domesticity to whip up a frenzy of anxieties converging on two deaths in a family that happen one after another.
The family dynamics in the drama of the damned is quite unmistakably inspired by Robert Redford's directorial debut 'Ordinary People' where the surviving son must live and probably die of guilt after the other child is killed.
I remember Timothy Hutton stealing the show from his screen parents in 'Ordinary People'. Alex Wolff as the grieving hurting son in 'Hereditary' is all that I carried home from this painful film about pain and retribution.
First-time director Ari Aster covers up a lot of his performing anxieties by using his brilliant actors in spaces half-filled with light and bathed in a pervasive gloom that creates an atmosphere of gathering alarm and doom. The film is interestingly shot with characters standing in unexpected corners of the consciously-askew composed frames looking on at situations and scenes that cannot humanly be expressed.
Then it all begins to fall apart. As Toni Collette, an actress usually seen to display substantial skill in conveying emotions, falls into a spiky sickening groove creating a progressive drama of diabolic domesticity that reaches a flashpoint after a series of craftily staged calamities which are both gruesome and rudderless.
The is more séance than sense, and it's all more pretentious than portentous.
The scenes within the family home meant to show a diabolic desecration of domesticity, are shrill in tone. What the debutant director does is to lay out the shock in fleeting images of decapitated heads and maggot-infested faces. These come on screen to jolt us. But the jolts are unintentionally preposterous. In one startling sequence a character dies a gruesome death. But we are quickly whisked away from the scene of the tragedy without seeing the outcome. Makes you wonder. Who is the director protecting?
By the time the characters attain a mythological puberty the climactic violence is all set to be staged in waves of relayed violence. Sure, it shocks. But is that enough? The erudite references to the satanic scriptures do not take away from our feeling that this was a film which could have internalized the horror of bereavement and relentless grief. Instead the exteriorized anguish is done up in stylish but ultimately sterile terror-images that do nothing to our sense of the scares except to remind us that the horror genre can't be taken too far away from its roots without the eerie components falling apart.
In 'Hereditary' the plot comes apart at the end, as unhinged as the main character who goes from grieving mother to shrieking Satanism. Collette embarrasses everyone including herself. It's like watching your parent pee in the pants.
Why are we even watching this film in a country where blind faith and superstitions still command our population's destiny?
(Ratings: 2 Stars)