A little late but I’ve finally gotten around to watching the most compelling horror film of 2018, Hereditary. Hereditary is held together by strong performances from Toni Collette and first time feature director Ari Aster shows an impressive willingness to explore his medium and craft as a filmmaker. So with a seemingly weaker year in terms of Oscar favorites, can this inventive genre film shock the field?
I think the one thing that most people should be agreeable to is that this film is certainly polarizing. There’s a lot of bold, as well as strange directions that it’s hard to pin down exactly what the true intentions of what this film tries to get across are. Personally, I really enjoyed Hereditary for the visceral experience of watching it… it is a ride. There is such a successful crafting of tension, orchestrated through fined tuned cinematography and clever misdirection. There’s a rawness brought to the events that take place due to the amazing work by the cast, and the gruesome imagery by the effects. It definitely both got me to get that chill down my spine and constantly muttering what the fuck under my breath. However, Hereditary certainly has its fair share of problems and something fundamentally not just minor nitpicks such as: instances where the ADR is incorporated well or the unrealistic plot progression in which the older brother takes his younger sister to a high school party… because you know that happens in real life.
My issue with Hereditary is while being dubbed the best horror film of the decade a statement I may or may not agree with, it doesn’t transcend the genre. While in pretty much every area I would consider Hereditary a superior film to Sinister (2012) in terms of concept and plot are concerned the two films aren’t really all that different. I’m going to assume you’ve seen Hereditary so minor spoilers to come. Hereditary while having substance such as the visual motifs of the miniatures and interpretational elements as to whether mental illness could be a metaphor for the film’s events but at the end of the day the film executes itself in a way where it ventures outside of the box for an hour just to end up back into the corner. The miniatures in terms of direct story purpose are used like the super 8 footage in Sinister… just creepy, gimmicky imagery. It’s a demon of the week flick that really doesn’t add substance and could have been easily interchanged with the Bagul, or the Conjuring ghost, or Barney the Dinosaur (it doesn’t matter just has to be a demon and be found with a quick google search). A lot of modern horror sort of deals with that it doesn’t want to establish the rules of it’s killer like the slasher flicks of old and insteads decides the antagonist will be invincible and have pretty much infinite demonic power. While pretty corny those slasher films might have had a point; while Hereditary is terrifying because of how futile the fight against our antagonist is the slashers have tension because the odds are bleak but there is an uncertainty as to how the film will end. With Freddy Kruger there’s the safety of being awake and Jason Voorhees you just have to escape Camp Crystal Lake or Manhattan or Hell? But what stops Raimon from killing everyone within 5 secs is solely because that wouldn’t be entertaining. Don’t defend the nonsense that he needs the male host, maybe if Toni Collette was pregnant and he needed to perform the ritual before the due date then that is stakes and conflict. Performing the seance in the house doesn’t count either because the daughter was killed by the demon or the cult before hand. It is intentional as obviously stated by the classroom scene but I don’t know if it is more “tragic” or satisfying to strip away agency, admittedly more scary but not necessarily better.
People want to separate this film from the horror genre as it’s best elements are the dower drama but the ending for me just solidifies that this film is guilty of the follies of modern horror. Overly relies on soundtrack and SFX, a rapid succession of events to end the film that play more for shock value then being crucial points in the overall narrative, and no matter how novel the execution is, the concept story feels played out a dozen times before.
I’m not saying Hereditary doesn’t feel fresh and it is one hell of an introduction by Ari Aster. I don’t know if it is as high concept as A Quiet Place or as has the contextual value of Get Out but I’m glad Hereditary the horror genre is heading in an interesting direction.
But now to answer the question, should Hereditary be in the Oscar conversation? I definitely think it’s more Rosemary’s Baby than The Silence of the Lambs but both of them are Oscar winning movies. Toni Collette should be nominated; I genuinely feel that this film could have lost its tone and could have become rather comical if it wasn’t constantly reigned in by this frightfully manic performance.
In terms of competition from what I heard, Gaga and Colman are almost locks and in terms of going off of hunches Viola Davis and Glenn Close might grab spots based off their personal prestige. I think then Colette is left with a toss up chance at the final spot as Saoirse Ronan (splits period piece votes with The Favourite), Melissa McCarthy (comedic reputation) and Yalitza Aparicio (limited dialogue/international/Netflix) have reasons that won’t surprise me to see on snub lists.
As for the film itself, there’s really no place to put it otherwise. I don’t think in terms of writing, editing, or cinematography enough is shown to praise it more so than typical horror. It’s a great film, but I don’t see it getting the votes as some people will be put-off by it in some shape or form. As much as Hereditary is a smashing success I think Ari Aster is going to be someone whose going to make something interesting in the future. I truly wonder if he likes the control of an A24 production, or if he’d go the cheap thrill on Netflix route or if he’d go more hardcore horror and get involved with Blumhouse or Sony or even Universal Studios?
Hereditary is a good film for how it makes you feel while watching, but might falter when it comes to how you think about it after. But hey, maybe that’s just me sound off in the comments whether you think Hereditary is Oscar-worthy?