HEREDITARY review by Rahul Vedantam – Toni Collette leads a horror/drama with mixed results

HEREDITARY review by Rahul Vedantam – Toni Collette leads a horror/drama with mixed results

Horror as a genre often finds itself trapped between two conflicting ideas. While artists want to try to experiment and grow, the fans’ niche taste and thirst for terror remains the same. Fans want high strung violins with slow camera pans, overly Christian anti-Christ imagery, and dimly lit corridors. On top on this, horror directors have a smaller tool belt than other genres in bringing out emotion from their audience; imagine if Judd Apatow included prat falls in his comedies as much as horror movies contain jump scares. That’s why when films like GET OUT and IT FOLLOWS come along and are able to capture audiences without indulging in the staples of the genre excessively, they are such immediate hits. HEREDITARY chooses to play by the rules, and has some interesting choices along that it attempts, but the well may be dry.

Director Ari Aster creates a sort of collaboration album of horror and drama, with each taking turns to set a tone that is ambiguous but nevertheless unsettling. While effective in setting tone, it also drags the film to an unnecessary 127 minutes, far longer that it needs to be. The narrative’s central drama revolves around the loss of a family member, and how the rest of the family must grow together or else risk falling apart. Toni Collette is the central star, and her performance in exploring the important parent/child dynamic is the heartbeat of the film. Alex Wolff and Milly Shapiro manage to add depth to their characters as well, but Gabriel Byrne’s husband is essentially just an audience stand in, always saying the right thing,

And this family dynamic is where the movie excels. One scene with the family huddled around a uneaten dinner violently screaming about blame in death could have easily served its function in the film as rock bottom without nuanced dialogue, but each member of the family comes out rational and having clearly thought about this for a long time.

But a good thing gets muddied during the next few steps in the horror process. The central conceit of the film is that during many high stress moments, the characters are ambiguous as to whether or not they are reacting from just general drama or the horror. But the demons with ill-defined rules just aren’t that interesting. The limits to their strength boundless, and their thirst for blood insatiable. Seeing ragdolled bodies slowly hover around is no longer as fear inducing as it once was. And all this only serves to pull a bait a switch on the interesting drama.

While the tone setting skills of director Ari Aster are superb, both the horror and drama of the film never combine fluidly to give the production a payoff that HEREDITARY‘s 127-minute running time truly deserves.

HEREDITARY opens June 8, 2018

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