While in ancient Christian literature evil spirits occupy a special place, in Hollywood dead, as world-wide persecutors, they have a somewhat different meaning, which implies entertainment and, as a rule, brings a large number of cinema viewers and safe earnings.
What has been devastating to most Hollywood films about evil spirits is the uncontrolled use of special effects and the embodiment of the devil as a “fearsome” creature of the strange voice, colored face and superhuman strength, all to create the “new” “Exorcist”.
The good and bad news is that “Hereditary” is not a basic modern horror whose philosophy boils down to relentlessly scaring viewers and recycling stories of a demon, spirit, witch, or ghost that harasses the protagonist or group of heroes. The good news is that we have a slightly different approach here, more thoughtful, artistic, with an abundance of style and almost top-notch technical aspects that add to the atmosphere. The bad news is that these technical and peripheral components can be deceiving the viewer to think that this film has some deep philosophy and symbolism, so the enthusiasm that arises at the beginning of the film is increasingly lost as the story moves toward the end. The bad impression is created by a poorly done end in which Aster goes for all-or-nothing, in the direction of pure horror, as well as in the direction of (a rather typical, stupid and ill-timed) explanation of what this is all about.
Aster’s intent is clear: to blend as much as possible the influences of atmospheric horror classics ( The Exorcist ) with the influences of highly artistic classic film dramas. So we have echoes of Polanski and Kubrick (Rosemary’s Baby and The Shining), but also Bergman and Cassavettes in terms of family drama. In that sense, perhaps the most accurate parallels can be drawn with contemporary genre accomplishments such as The Babadook, It Follows, and even The Witch.
The first part of the film perfectly functions as a family-intensive psychological drama, with irreparably damaged people who repress their unrest with all their might but still ultimately emerge to the surface in the form of brutal emotional violence. The second part is then subtly transformed into classic religious horror, with the devil himself in the lead role and the sect, obsession, occult symbols and religious names and, after all, a book that cannot be burned. After Annie reveals at one of her group therapies that her 18-year-old brother killed himself because his mother “put other people in it,” and her father passed away in the most severe pain starving to death, the mysterious Joan (Ann Dowd) enters in her life which offers Annie to communicate with her dead daughter.
Although it may be thought for a moment that this is a far-fetched dramaturgical solution, it soon turns out that meeting Joan is no accident and that she plays a special role in her late mother’s devilish plan, which began with the birth of little Charlie.
The director creates spookiness and horror by combining the extreme realities inherent in the aforementioned psychological drama directors and occasionally reaching for the surreal, such as the gradual “false” appearance of spirits in the dark parts of the premises and delaying the presentation of their source. Also, Ari Aster’s overall visual experience is complemented by explicit depictions of violence that abruptly cancelled occasional static in the action, contributing equally to the genre of psychological drama and horror.
“Hereditary” stretches and deliberately prolongs scary or shocking scenes without any musical background. Totally conscious and intentional, he takes enough time to create the atmosphere he wants. In these scenes the cast is brilliant. He also knows which scenes are better not to show, but to make viewers rely only on what they hear while the camera remains focused on another object. The combination of these procedures is perfectly combined in the tale of the story, where it creates a special sense of discomfort that few modern day horrors can create.
One of the most important links when it comes to the final rounding of the form of this film is certainly the acting performances.
Certainly the most prominent and impressive is Toni Collette as Annie. It completely carries every scene it is in. Collette seemed to easily portray a broken and bereaved woman, full of doubt and contradictory feelings. Although she tries desperately to keep things under control, Annie slowly delves deeper into despair and sadness. As the action unfolds, it is a pleasure to follow the gradual evolution (or devolution) of its character. On the other hand, the realistic and mostly calm Steve is the perfect contrast to her fragile and at times unstable character.
The rest of this family, Peter (Alex Wolff) and Charlie (Milly Shapiro) are also largely left in the shadow of Collette’s character, though it is worth pointing out that Alex Wolff had several solo scenes in which he showed his talent. His character is most pronounced precisely in scenes where the family is together when we have the opportunity to see the great dynamic that he has with Toni Collette. Milly Shapiro as a truly creepy and quirky Charlie was great, though her character eventually loses her place throughout the story.
For some, the film is abnormally scary, for others not, so you definitely have to decide which group you belong to.