REVIEW: Hereditary is the best horror movie since The Exorcist(!)

It is so much easier to write a review for a terrible movie. A bad movie usually has a plethora of things wrong with it that provide plenty of ammunition for those looking to pick it apart, scatter the debris and laugh maniacally at its remains.

Every now and then there’s a movie that is so well made, so pitch-perfect, so transcendent, there’s nothing to be said. That’s Hereditary.

No exaggeration: Hereditary is the best horror movie in forty+ years.

I’ve seen probably every major and most minor horror movies released in the past ten/fifteen years, and countless more going back decades. I love good horror movies, whether they’re serious or silly and I hate the bad ones, with cliches, nothing but jump-scares, bad (but not in a charming way) acting and writing, etc.

Hereditary is so good it’s almost unfair to call it a horror movie. This isn’t just a great horror movie; that’s A Quiet Place. This is just a great movie that happens to disturb the living crap out of you.

It’s a once-in-a-generation film.

If I have anything cautionary to say about Hereditary it’s that it is absolutely, positively not a movie for the faint of heart. This movie is The Exorcist of our time. Scratch that: It’s The Exorcist-meets-Rosemary’s Baby. It’s everything the pretentious, stupid, wannabe-deep movie mother! wishes it was. It’s a horror movie that contains absolutely grotesque images and pulse-pounding moments of intensity, but for the most part it’s structured and paced like those two titans of old-school horror; apart from the crazy final few minutes, it has the same slow-burn “am I crazy or is THIS crazy” feel to it that audiences had watching The Exorcist in 1973, or Rosemary’s Baby five years earlier.

That this movie could even be greenlit today is astounding, considering modern horror movies are so formulaic they’re almost parodies at this point. But unlike the modern horror movie, there is no cliched dialogue, young-adult cast, ninety-minute runtime or “jump scare every ten minutes” outline. When was the last time a horror movie had an Oscar-worthy performance? ’cause Toni Collette gives one here.

It’s also the best movie A24 has released thus far. The small studio had minor hits with The VVITCH and It Comes At Night, but the former movie was too slow without enough intrigue or payoff, and the latter had too many of the cliched tropes of the modern horror movie. Hereditary balances the slow-build and acting-driven approach of The VVITCH with just enough shocking moments, disturbing moments, and grip your chest and gasp moments to satisfy the fans of It Comes At Night.

You want more?

I could talk about the movie’s atmosphere, how the film begins with a little blip of unsettling tension and anxiety, and how that blip never truly goes away, it just gets bigger and bigger and bigger as it presses on. There is not a single moment—not one single moment—where you feel comfortable enough to exhale. Every scene is unsettling, leaving you waiting for a jump-scare that your modern sensibilities are trained to expect, but which never comes. The modern horror movie gives you those scares as a quick release before dropping the tension like a rock for ten minutes before kicking it back up. They’re roller coasters—thrill-rides—but they’re not high art. They sacrifice good story and performance for the feeling.

Then along comes Hereditary, which slowly drives you crazy the way it does the characters in the story. You don’t just watch this movie, you experience the same feelings of dread, confusion, shock, fright and panic as the people going through the plot in the film. That’s a testament, not to the film’s (excellent) screenplay but it’s excellent direction (both the script and the direction are by Ari Aster, his first feature film…which just blows me away).

I won’t spoil the ending, nor will I mention what is at the heart of the film’s mystery. The movie itself offers precious little exposition (which is remarkable for a movie with so much dialogue and plot development), but you’ll be able to understand the broad strokes as the movie works you through its story. By the end, you’ll be able to say “I get it” while confessing that you’ll need to watch it three more times before you understand how this happened, why that happened, when those things happened and so on. There are subtle background characters, casual asides in the dialogue, ah-ha moments that you’ll catch the next-time around, but truth be told, the movie is so disturbingly disturbing you might—like me—be content with saying “yep, it’s great. I don’t ever want to watch it again.”

That’s a reaction I’ve not had since I saw The Exorcist way back when I was sixteen, at a hang-out with a handful of kids from my high school. We were so disturbed by it, we watched Monty Python as a come-down. I still had nightmares though.

I probably will tonight too.

10/10 – Words can’t express how excellent this is. It’s not just the best horror movie of the year (and that’s saying something, since A Quiet Place was pretty great too), it’s the best horror movie released in a generation.

Bravo.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go watch Python.

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