There will be spoilers.
Last night, my friend and I went to see Hereditary. Allow me to paint the scene: I'm the movie lover with the taste for horror. My friend is not so big on this genre but will go see any movie that is intriguing, whatever the genre, and comes with an open mind.
To be completely honest with you all; we both came out of the screening extremely disappointed. So much that we both regretted not walking out as soon as we realized what we had signed up for.
WHAT THE TRAILER SHOWS US is a story about a dead grandmother who strongly favored her granddaughter. It then toys with the idea that dear dead grandma has not gone to her final resting place but has opted to stay behind to terrorize her remaining family and has also possessed the girl...? With quick flashes of someone's nose getting broken on a school desk with no explanation to the events prior, to a person staring at another person on fire in a living room, a boy's head covered in ants, and the granddaughter cutting the head off a pigeon, all with the mother of the family's short speech of how secretive grandma really was... You can't help but feel you're going to never be able to sleep without the light on afterwards.
WHAT WE GOT was two hours of tense and uncomfortable vibes, hoping for something to connect the dots and help you make sense of this hot mess.
Hereditary had two or three interesting story threads to play with and did not give any of them enough stability to grow. What we can grasp as the main focus is a family who is coping with the recent passing of their grandmother, which makes a dramatic turn into how they all cope with the sudden death of Charlie, the daughter who is killed after a freak car accident when being driven to the nearest hospital due to a severe anaphylactic reaction to chocolate cake. After this you see the mother, Annie's (Toni Collette, The Sixth Sense) mental state deteriorate while her resentment toward her son increases. (We are witness to the shocking scene when she confesses to her son how she tried to force a miscarriage whilst pregnant with him) All through this, you also have the son, Peter (Alex Wolff, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), smoking pot with his friends to deal with the guilt he has for killing Charlie (he drove the car). And the husband, Steve (Gabriel Byrne, The Usual Suspects), who tries hard to keep the house together and put up with his wife's progressive insanity the best he can.
In the middle of all this, we see weird things going on inside, and around the family. Moments where we definitely can see the very obvious ghost of Grandma lurking in the corner of the room; the clucking that Charlie would do constantly while she was alive and stalking her brother now in death; a cult that hides behind embroidered door mats; Charlie cutting the head off a dead pigeon... My point is there is no end to the creepiness that fills this movie. There are plenty of things to watch out for to make you sit on the edge of your seat in an uneasiness of what will happen next.
But that, in itself, is the problem. The entire film relies on sound effects, tense anticipation, and shock moments to get you invested in it. I find this is what a lot of movies make the mistake of doing now. They give an audience a telepathic script to their films where there are invisible signs saying 'this is where you laugh' or 'this is where you scream.' It is not just a genre issue either. Comedies these days rely upon the same quality humor similar to The Big Bang Theory, and Family Guy. TBBT is known for its scripted pauses where the producers add recorded laughter after the scenes have been filmed. Family Guy will push the boat out for what is found funny, and keep pushing until we have hilarious moments that would only ever happen in the world of cartoons. My point is audiences see where they are meant to go, and without any real thought will be herded into their autopilot responses. I'm not saying that these shows aren't good are fun to watch, but I feel that a good movie does not need subliminal prompting.
After watching the film my friend and I felt that the director did not take the proper time to research everything he needed to give us legitimacy to each passing fact throughout. During a bereavement group meeting, Annie explains to the group (and us) how varying members of her relatives have had mental disabilities. She throws out D.I.D. (dissociative identity disorder), schizophrenia, and others which lead to these individual's deaths. This is also the problem to which people also like to throw out when it looks like it will add to the creepiness of the story. These illnesses do not contribute to the film any more than a crutch, where the director mentioned in an interview, "...There's meant to be some ambiguity about whether the film is about a family following each other into madness or, you know..." Like anything that contributes an illness, I am the type to look up what I can about these illnesses and hope for accuracy in their statements. It can be really frustrating when you have the facts and a person comes along with an idea where the name gives it glamour and the facts don't add up. The mental illnesses are also used to make the character's stories unreliable. I feel this would have worked better if the movie had one idea rather than the several it gave.
A problem with this as well as in the name the of film itself. Hereditary is defined as something that runs in the family (If you look at the poster for this article, you can see they have used that example as well). However, based on how exactly you pick up the film, there are no specifics to there being a cult that has been passed through the generations of Annie's family, let alone her mother. The other cult members, that are seen more and more as we near the end of the movie, are not related to the family in the slightest. There is little to suggest that there's anything passed down to Charlie or Peter either. That is more assumption when the cult part of the story comes to a close.
This same issue is included as the cult that contributes to this family's misery to the demon that they worship known as Paimon. Small moments of inaccurate facts are put in place which the director almost hopes for someone in those professions to notice. This feels more like he wants to provoke a reaction, rather than keeping the facts simple and to the point, despite his protest of how much he might upset the occultists. In my opinion, just because you have information about a subject you don't like does not make you part of the club by acknowledging it. Looking through various interviews, Ari makes it clear that he did not want to do "another devil movie" for everyone, and that Paimon "came to make sense". This is just me, but that statement comes off as "I wanted supernatural and not call it that because I strive to be different." Don't get me wrong, if you want to have cults, satan/demon possession etched in a family drama, do what you will, but don't deny what it is going to be, dramatic twists and all!
We ended up comparing what we watched to Mother (2017); another film whose trailer is deliberately misleading to entice an audience and then a build up like no other. There, you had given a strong central concept and a director on board with that, giving its viewers the ability to have alternative opinions. Whereas Hereditary threw an array of options and said: "Pick what you like." In interviews, this is also the summarized response that director Ari Aster gives to his interviewers, repeatedly. I do admit he also says to people that he is not against people disliking his film, or ready to inform anyone that they weren't "patient" enough whilst watching his first ever feature film. However, there is an air surrounding his words which mean to say, "I'll be surprised if you don't like it because it is awesome."
In light of this being Ari Aster's first feature-length film, I will look forward to what he may next brings to the table. Let's hope his next work is an improvement.