Sins of the Mother: A Review of Hereditary

Hereditary, the most-anticipated horror release of 2018, has enjoyed months-long (film-festival-generated) buzz, and recently debuted to widespread critical acclaim. After finally watching the movie myself, I have to add: I just don’t see what all the fuss is about.

The film centers on a nuclear family aggrieved by a secretive, eccentric (i.e. dark-arts-and-crafts-loving) grandmother who becomes an even greater burden after she’s dead and buried. A promising enough premise, but Hereditary quickly proceeds to underwhelm. For starters, the main performers prove guilty of rampant overacting. The Oscar-touted Toni Collette as mournful mom Annie Graham vacillates between shrieking hysterically and shrilly hectoring her loved ones; Alex Wolff as the increasingly-petrified stoner teen Peter demonstrates acting chops no less hammy. Meanwhile Gabriel Byrne as patriarch Steve is presented as a laid-back foil to his overwrought family, but Byrne practically sleepwalks through the role.

Hereditary also threatens to make a misnomer of run time, as the film (its first hour in particular) unfolds with torturous slowness. A major twist about two-thirds of the way in is anything but unexpected: one character couldn’t have more clearly announced herself as a Duplicitous Assister Straight Out of Rosemary’s Baby if she were wearing a sandwich board. Likewise, the occult-conspiracy climax plays out all too familiarly for genre fans.

I can appreciate that first-time director Ari Aster aims to build a lush Gothic atmosphere rather than rely on cheap jump-scares. For sure, there are some creepy and disturbing moments here (too many, though, that were spoiled by the film’s trailer), but Hereditary never really terrifies. It failed to scare me at least, mostly because I just didn’t care enough about the characters and their predicament.

Much like The Witch (an infinitely superior effort), this film seems destined to create a broad divide in its audience. And much like Robert Eggers’s Puritanical chiller, Aster’s cinematic premiere will no doubt benefit from repeat viewing (not just to appreciate its more nuanced aspects, but simply to get a closer, at-home view of the small print that appears onscreen on several occasions and is a struggle to read for hardly-eagle-eyed theatergoers such as myself). My lofty expectations having been grounded, though, I can’t say that I am looking forward to a reunion with the Graham family anytime soon. More histrionic than horrific, Hereditary passes along too many negative traits.

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