Hereditary is the latest offering from indie distribution house A24, and the debut film by director Ari Aster. The film deals with a ‘hereditary’ gene that a special child has in a family involved with devil worship. Overall, this film is conceptually interesting but flawed in its execution; the ending technically works, but thematically doesn't fit with the rest of the film. The build-up throughout the film makes one think it is going to be about trauma and grief but this turns out to only be misleading as the audience is then given clues about the overarching story about a haunting of a lost child. This again, turns out to be untrue as the film finally decides to focus on satanic rituals. With a somewhat confusing plot that bobs and weaves between three different possible scenarios—all with more or less the same amount of atmosphere-killing issues—none of it bodes well for Hereditary as it desperately tries to compete for the audience’s attention despite having an interesting premise at its core.
One of the film’s major missteps lies in its flawed performances, especially with Alex Wolff who plays Peter in the film. In every scene that deals with him being distraught or upset in any way, his only method is to have a blank stare and wail as he cries for a moment without actually crying, specifically when the family is being contacted by the spirit of Charlie, played by Milly Shapiro. The husband is believable, being in a strained marriage, and the wife and daughter with her makeup look the part visually and help create a sense of genuine unease as the film progresses. Some of the scenes where supernatural things occur are somewhat laughable towards the end of the film.
The only thing that was somewhat redeemable besides the story, is the cinematography which for the most part helps give off a harmless look to the world that the film is set in. However, this also works to the film’s detriment later on during the climax as tensions are rising; nothing in terms of lighting really conveys a tense atmosphere besides a soft and somewhat typical night set-up. The lingering shots mixed with the unsettling score truly combine to create some palpable tension at points. This is corroborated in the editing department as there are multiple shots that are reminiscent of Wes Anderson’s style, specifically when Peter jumps through the attic window at the end of the film. As the camera dollies forward into the window frame and tilts down, hovering over Peter two stories above him.
Despite the somewhat ambitious style, and creative story, none of it saves Hereditary from being sub-par after the climax. While overall the film is a somewhat enjoyable experience, most of this potential is squandered despite trying with great effort, to throw the audience for a loop that they wouldn't follow in order to try and play the "it has a deeper meaning if you paid attention" card. This ends up holding Hereditary back in some spots as it tries to please too many crowds and do too many things at once.