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Review: 'Hereditary'

When a family's grandmother passes away, dark and disturbing secrets get unearthed by the remaining members of the family.

A film that gets a huge buzz from the Sundance Film Festival at the start of the year, and is produced and distributed by A24, a studio that over the last few years has become a big favourite with indie fans, you know you just have to mark it done on your watchlist for upcoming new releases.

I'm always up for an A24 film. I feel that this studio goes for more variety and takes chances on some really peculiar projects. Many have pulled off nicely such as The Spectacular Now, Locke, Ex Machina, Amy, The Witch, Green Room, The Lobster, Swiss Army Man, Free Fire, A Ghost Story, The Florida Project, The Killing Of A Sacred Deer, Lady Bird, The Disaster Artist, and my personal favourite, Room. Some are still being heavily discussed like Under The Skin and Enemy.

But when it's a horror, I still have a small sense of caution as it's a genre that I find little success in. It's strange, because horror films have had many intriguing concepts and have more directions they can go with. Much like my favourite genre, sci-fi. But most of them end up being so generic and predictable. But there are enough horror films every so often that hit every mark and it becomes a classic.

Even with that in mind, I have been pleasantly surprised with horror films over the last few years. I have really enjoyed horrors such as The Cabin In The Woods, It Follows, The Babadook, Get Out, The Witch, I Saw The Devil, Black Swan, Don't Breathe, Kill List, Lights Out, Under The Skin and many others.

So I was going into this with a fair amount of excitement, despite my overall history with this genre.

There is an amazing opening scene sequence that really gives you a hint at what you're about to experience. There isn't anything that scary-looking in the opening act. But the way it is made, you can feel the tension and that something is not quite right.

As we get into the second half, there is a moment where I wasn't into the overboard exposition moments that was basically showing us some integral information and shoving it in front of our fences. I know how important this aspect of story-telling is within any film. I just felt it could have been better executed.

By the final act, there were many great sequences that terrified me and that I felt was thanks to the directing and camerawork. However, there was still something missing that made me fully care for the story. I feel I was more impressed by the construction of it rather than the story.

The performances were great all around. Toni Collette for me has for the most part being underappreciated. She's pretty good in this, and I would not be surprised if this performance gets mentions come awards season.

I can see some people seeing her performance as a bit over-the-top. But for me, there was a nice mixture of realism and emotionally heavy reactions that fits in nicely within the horror genre.

Milly Shapiro did a great job in her first acting role in a feature film. Right from the get-go, her character made me feel uneasy and I knew that either something bad was going to happen to her or to somewhat else by her.

Alex Wolff did a good job, especially towards the end. His reaction to certain sequences made it for a chilling experience. There was also a nice little unexpected performance by Ann Dowd that's worth watching out for as well.

As I said before, I was most impressed by the construction of the film. So by far, its biggest strength is its technical aspects. It is certainly an impressive creation. From the creative camerawork, to the imaginative production design and editing to the chilling and atmospheric score and sound design. This has a lot going for it in these departments, and they should be commended.

There were great moments, especially in the second half where there are things in the corner of the screen and even when nothing is happening, it still sent chills down my spine. The choice of showing them for such a long time on a wide shot was a brave, but top decision.

I think what brought it down for me was the story. While it was interesting and very well developed, I just did not care enough for the story to be gripped by it. There were too many more interesting parts of the film going on, and the intrigue of the story got left behind.

That being said, this is quite an impressive feature film debut by Ari Aster. This director has done a bunch of shorts before this, and looks set to venture out into feature projects.

I hear it's being billed as this generation's The Exorcist or Rosemary's Baby. For me, it reminded more of the pacing and vibe of It Comes At Night, and a final act similar to that of The Witch.

For general horror audiences, there aren't that many jump scares. The final act is where you'll get the most chilling and unsettling moments. The first two acts I can see being a slog for some demographics. Fear like every other emotion is subjective. This will find its audience, it just may take some time. It's one of those horrors that I think you will get more out of, long after you've seen it.

For me, I did feel unsettled throughout. However, the slow pacing throughout did make it tough at times and some of the spooky moments did not feel that impactful. But I think the commitment that everyone involved had in this won me over in the end, and I feel the strength of the final act made me really appreciate this. There are some scenes that I will certainly not forget anytime soon.

It has a terrific direction by Ari Aster and his team, and as mentioned before the technical side of this film is brilliant to see in its finished product. I will certainly be up for Aster's future projects.

Rating: 7/10

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