Eppler: "Hereditary" touches greatness without grasping it

Eppler: "Hereditary" touches greatness without grasping it

Most horror movies are easy to pin down: the haunted house movie, the demon possession fright fest, the evil weirdo kid, and so on. There were several times in “Hereditary” I thought I had it pegged only to realize I was in for another turn. Another shock. Another surprise. If only the final revelation paid off on the fantastic buildup. 

Despite the fourth quarter fumble, writer and director Ari Aster, in his first feature-length movie, is working to get a strong reaction out of audiences. On that level, he is hugely effective with a film that is truly scary, and deeply upsetting at times. In one particularly disturbing scene, a guy sitting right next to me in the theater yelled and fainted. He came to and was alright, but I mention it as evidence of this movie’s intensity. 

At its core, “Hereditary” is a movie about a family dealing with profound grief. Toni Collette, in an astonishing performance, is a wife and mother coming to terms with her own mom’s death after a traumatic childhood. As you might expect, the family starts seeing strange things around the house after Nana’s death, but there’s much more going on here. Some of the most tense scenes in the film having nothing to do with freak-outs in the dark. It’s emotionally wrenching dynamics between family members, including the son played by Alex Wolff in another of the movie's wonderful performances.

But the real star here is Aster - crafting a film that had my stomach in knots a full two hours, and wanting to watch through my fingers. Even though it’s his first movie, he plays with perspective, space and movement like a pro. Unfortunately, his script makes rookie mistakes, borrowing too liberally from other horror greats in the final section and bordering on a silly conclusion. It’s a movie that touches greatness without seizing it. The biggest knock against Aster here is wanting to have it all. But that ambition signals the arrival of an exciting new filmmaker. 

EPPLER'S RATING: * * * 1/2

RATING SCALE

* * * * * Incredible - One of the best of the year
* * * * Excellent - Touches greatness with only minor quibbles
* * * Good - Plenty to like, definitely worth seeing
* * Mediocre - You can do better
* Awful  - The worst, an insult to movies

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