The concept of a slow build-up in horror films seems like a lost art these days. Or at the very least, an unappreciated art form. Audiences seem to want scares and thrills as fast and consistently as possible – that’s what they expect when they see a horror film anyway. But they forget some of the best horror movies come from taking the time to develop our small cast of characters and the dangers they’re about to face, racking up the tense and suspense to the point that it’s unbearable. Movies like “Rosemary’s Baby,” “The Exorcist,” “Alien” and “The Thing” are key examples of this concept and when the scares do come, they’re even more jarring because we’ve grown to appreciate or even care for these characters.
It goes back to the classic Alfred Hitchcock example of a bomb underneath a crowded table – if you show just the explosion, that’s a surprise because we didn’t know the bomb was there. But if you show there’s a ticking time-bomb, one that could go off any minute and endanger these characters, that’s suspense.
“Hereditary” is that ticking time-bomb that refuses to show when it’ll explode and unleash chaos upon an unsuspecting family. This has rubbed some people the wrong way, since it does take a while before anything “scary” happens, but to those patient enough to let the creepiness settle in are treated to one of the most unsettling yet relatable horror journey in recent memories.
The film follows the Graham family – wife Annie (Toni Collette), husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), son Peter (Alex Wolff), and daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) as they mourn the loss of Annie’s mother, whom they all hated for being controlling and manipulative, except for Charlie. They each grieve in their own way, as Annie attends a support group, while Charlie takes out her frustrations on her mother. But the more everyone settles into their routines, they all become tense and easily frustrated, while Charlie starts to see images of her grandmother.
The fright in “Hereditary” surprisingly comes from little things mentioned in passing that justify many of the character’s behavior. Like when Annie mentions that there’s been a history of severe mental illness in the men of her family, which shapes the way we look at Peter for the rest of the movie, or the intricate designs of Annie’s miniatures and how they reflect her own personal problems with her family, like she uses her sets to replay her most personal moments and dreams. It sets the unnerving tone for the rest of the picture, like pissing off a killer that’s stalking you.
Like I previously mentioned, the pacing is slow and the film doesn’t give the audience any straight answers. This is, predictably, left some unimpressed with “Hereditary” as it is sometimes a game of patience and looking for those little details, turning them into big deals. Suffice to say, if you’re looking for a movie filled with scares and frights, this isn’t the film for you. “Hereditary” is more of a film that’ll make you think about its horror, where a lot of it lies in its ambiguity and tension. It is brutal, tragic and will make you writhe in your seat during the more grotesque scenes.
Overall, while the pacing will throw many people off, “Hereditary” is the perfect middle ground between art-house horror and mainstream horror. One that is big on both psychological and physical horror, without favoring one over the other. It’s a film about the need to control inside of a family and where to draw that dangerous line between yourself and your family.
Final Grade: B+