Hereditary doesn’t know well enough to quit while it’s ahead

After the expertly curated, nerve-shredding trailer, I went into “Hereditary” with a great deal of trepidation (after all, I’ve come to think of myself – erroneously, perhaps – as a bit of a horror wuss) but of all the myriad emotional states I was nervously anticipating, I never expected to be bored.

Following the death of her estranged mother, Annie (Toni Collette) is forced to confront some uncomfortable truths about her family history and the effect its legacy has had on her own family. But as the ghosts of the past start to make themselves felt, a more malevolent spirit begins to haunt the family and the darkest secret of all is finally revealed.

Written and Directed by Ari Aster in his feature film debut, “Hereditary” is a deliberately discordant assembly, archly designed to keep the audience feeling off-kilter and uneasy. Unfortunately, it’s an approach that often promises more than it delivers and any emotional momentum is hamstrung by the repetitive use of the same directorial motifs to the point where they start to grate. There’s a clever and liberal use of tilt-shift photography to blur the lines between the real world and the off-kilter creepiness of Annie’s intricate model work but ultimately it never really progresses beyond the aesthetic.

Aster wears his influences on his sleeve, notably “Rosemary’s Baby”, “The Omen” and, oddly, “The Cook, The Thief, His Wife And Her Lover” but I keenly felt the absence of the palpable sense of suffocating dread the trailer suggests I could expect. Admittedly, my trajectory through the film wasn’t entirely flat: started off excited, then bored, still bored, shocked, then kind of intrigued a bit oh wait, no: bored again, then just impatient for the ending. Sadly, said denouement abandons the film’s arthouse predilections in favour of seventies Hammer Horror Satanic clichés and slightly risible effects work, resulting in it being rewarded unkindly but understandably scoffing and sniggering from sections of the audience (the showing I attended being no exception). Uncouth? Certainly. Unjustified? Not really.

There are undeniably striking images peppered through the film, as well as some superbly eldritch concepts and the performances across the board, particularly from Toni Collette, Alex Wolff and Milly Shapiro, are absolutely superb (except perhaps for Gabriel Byrne who gets little to nothing to do and has one particular line of dialogue where the syntax is so badly mangled it abruptly took me out of the entire film for a few seconds) but for a film I expected to give me trouble sleeping, it’s profoundly disappointing that the real challenge was in staying awake.

hereditary review
Score 4/10
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