Ari Aster’s Hereditary is my favorite film of 2018, and the best horror film I’ve seen in many years. It earned widespread critical acclaim and a not-inconsiderable amount of public hype when it came out in wide theatrical release. Because this is the internet age, the backlash started soon after.
Most of the horror fans I know loved the movie and continue to defend it. But a few that I’ve interacted with personally, as well as a much larger number putting their wet blanket comments on Reddit, have come out to express that it was “overrated” and “mediocre”. And these people, dear reader, are wrong.
I’m being semi-facetious there, but only semi. I acknowledge that art is subjective, and a well-reasoned negative review of even the most universally beloved movie is always valid. I also recognize that supernatural horror just isn’t everybody’s bag. It’s a subject I have much interest in, and written extensively about. More on that a little later.
The criticism of Hereditary I hear most often – the one that grinds my gears the most is: “It was so predictable!”
First of all, congratulations on being such a genius. I regret being such a dull philistine that can’t reliably guess every twist and turn in a movie the first time I watch it. Second of all, may I humbly suggest you re-asses your criteria for quality in movies? Does it include factors other than the unpredictability of the plot?
Unpredictability is a good quality in almost any film. But it is not a critical element in every film. Look no further than the Marvel movies, which are formulaic by design and still manage to be impactful. “But I don’t like the MCU movies either!” you might say. Fine, feel free substitute any number of classic movies that adhere to a traditional plot structure. The point is, the surface level, broad strokes of the plot of every movie don’t necessarily need to keep you guessing in order to be successful. Predictability is the death sentence of movies that rely on shock and are constructed with the assumption that they’re pulling one over the audience, but they’re actually one step ahead the whole time. It is, admittedly, a plague infesting so many crappy January horror movies these days.
But frankly, that criticism when applied to Hereditary is kind of horseshit. From the opening moments, the film starts dropping clues that the recently deceased grandmother was participating in some kind of strange cult. So it’s not inconceivable to think back on previous cult-based horror movies and have some kind of idea of where things are going. But that’s not what the movie is about.
Tell me with a straight face that you predicted Charlie’s death at the end of the third act.
“I predicted Charlie’s death at the-“
Sorry. But seriously, bullshit. That moment is, if you’ll pardon the hyperbole, the “shower scene” of post-2000’s horror. It came out of fucking nowhere, in a movie marketed heavily around Charlie being a main character, possibly the main antagonist. And aside from the moment itself, it’s the details that make it so horrifying. The long, static shot of the brother going into shock. The unseen reaction of the mother discovering the body. That cold-bucket-of-water smash cut to the head being devoured by ants. I’m not exaggerating when I say that moment made me feel unsafe in the theater from that point forward, and upped the potency of every scene thereafter.
The other scares peppered throughout – virtually none of which are traditional jump scares, I might add – all worked better BECAUSE I didn’t know if another “Charlie” moment was coming. The “CLOCK” noise of the tongue. The mom, hovering in the shadows of the corner of the ceiling. The mom again, sawing her own head off with a clay cutter. The, um, nude geriatrics. These scares are iconic, and you’d have to be mad or a liar to call any of them predictable.
“But it just wasn’t scary.”
I have more sympathy towards this argument. The movie scared the goddamn willies off me, but I’m the prime audience for this type of horror. The supernatural, the unknowable, the demonic – those things just work on me. Other people find them silly. And I suspect that viewers who don’t have much patience for slow burns AND don’t find ghosts-n-shit scary in the first place, are the ones making the most vocal criticisms of Hereditary.
But that’s on YOU to understand your preferences the to word your criticism accordingly. I, personally, don’t think The Strangers is scary. At all. Same for You’re Next, and virtually all slasher movies. I still love them. The Strangers is a good horror movie, and I’ve seen the shivers certain people make when it comes up. I know what makes it work even if it doesn’t completely work on me.
Lastly, consider Hereditary in the lens of the work of a first time director. That is just insane to me. Ari Aster came on the scene a fully developed savant at creating dread and unease. He’s got only two movies on his resume as of now, but already he’s got an unmistakable, distinct style. I loved Midsommar, but a lot of people found that one harder to digest, even those who liked Hereditary. We can probably have a more spirited debate about that one.
As for Hereditary itself, if you didn’t like it, again, that’s valid. That is your god-given right and I cannot tell you you are wrong.
But you’re wrong.