'Hereditary' Review

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Lately the title “Horror Movie” has been awarded to films that just don’t deserve it. “Get Out” has a few gory moments in its final half hour, but it’s a suspense thriller. “mother!” includes its share of blood, but not the slicing and dicing found in traditional horror films. And neither provide the scares required for the genre.

And now there’s “Hereditary” – a psychological suspense drama that, in its final act, rises to the level of creepy – but never into jump out of your seat territory. The film earned rave reviews at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where it was scooped-up by A24 for distribution.

Toni Collette takes-on one of her showiest big screen roles in recent years as Annie, wife of Steve (Gabriel Byrne) and mom to high school son Peter (Alex Wolff) and quirky 13-year-old daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro). Annie creates amazing miniature scenes and figures. Charlie likes to draw. Peter likes to smoke pot. The plot development that sets this story in motion is the death of Annie’s aged mother, which has happened just prior to the opening scene.

Toni Collette
Toni Collette

And that’s pretty much all you need to know going in – and all A24 is allowing you to know going in with a marketing campaign heavy on “mystery”. What unfolds is an intense and bizarre look at a family dealing with loss and its repercussions, from the mind of first-time feature film writer/director Ari Aster.

“Hereditary” is a challenging to sink your teeth into. There are a handful of bold, inventive scenes, including some that push Collette to places we’ve never seen her go before. But there’s a consistency of disconnect – between the characters (intentional) and the audience (unintentional). There are some minor plot elements and attempts at profound “symbolism” that only only serve to undermine the impact.

As the story progresses, you realize that this movie has to go off the rails at some point, and when it does, any appreciation you had for what came before it is minimized. And the dramatic conclusion is less than satisfying.

It’ll be interesting to see what kind of an audience “Hereditary” conjures up. If you’ve recently lost a close family member or friend, this is not the movie for you. And if you’re a horror movie fan, this isn’t going to give you the adrenaline rush you’re looking for. Your patience may wear a bit thin before Hell is unleashed.

Maybe I’ve said too much.

Jackson Murphy: Emmy Award-winning Film Critic / Entertainment Reporter. Broadcast Film Critics Assoc. (@CriticsChoice), SAG-AFTRA (@SAGAwards)