HEREDITARY Review — The Devil May Care, But Should You?

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HEREDITARY Review by Staci Layne Wilson

Have you ever wondered: What if Wes Anderson had directed Rosemary’s Baby? If so, I’ve got just the flick for you. If not, then it’s probably best you avoid Hereditary. Hereditary is quirky, strange and slow (Anderson) with just a smidgen of Satanism (Rosemary) which puts it in a precarious position of being reminiscent of other movies but at the same time, too hollow and cold to become something all its own.

Toni Collette plays Annie, an artist who expresses her grief through her art. She makes disturbing dioramas in miniature of her family’s home, which highlight only sorrow, despair and dysfunction. When we meet her, Annie has just buried her elderly mother. We also meet her supportive but wishy-washy husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), their withdrawn pothead teenage son Peter (Alex Wolff), and their oddball young daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro). Then we hang around with them for a long while.

Collette’s performance is all-in, but it’s one-note. She played a woebegone mom in The Sixth Sense (for which she was Oscar-nominated) but even in that much-smaller role, writer-director M. Night Shyamalan let her character unfold in interesting layers and the film earned its unforgettable ending thanks to labyrinthine plotting and expert timing. That is not the case in Hereditary.

Writer-director Ari Aster (who’s never made a feature before) has everything down-pat on the surface, but the characters have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. They all simply march zombie-like toward their doom, and we are not made to care about their fates. In the case of Hereditary, and especially in its predictable resolution, we as the audience have nothing to hold onto. We are merely bystanders. There have been a few other “bleak” movies recently released (Mother, The Killing of a Sacred Deer and You Were Never Really Here come to mind) that are much, much better in terms of having the potential to become cult classics.

Plot holes abound. For instance, is there a police department in this town? A body is stolen from a grave but only one person knows about it. A creepy woman hangs around the playground of the school but no one notices. One character commits negligent homicide but is never even questioned.

Having said that, Hereditary is a well-acted, superbly-shot, and nicely-made film in terms of visuals. If you’re interested in it as an exercise in supernatural horror, it does pack a grim and gruesome punch in the end. If you’re curious about all the buzz, by all means see it. (The trailer is pretty great.) But don’t go in expecting the touted best horror film of the year.

Rated R

2 Hours 7 Minutes

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HEREDITARY Review by Staci Layne Wilson

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Staci Layne Wilson

Staci Layne Wilson

Staci Layne Wilson is an accomplished writer / director / producer / film critic and the author the bestseller So L.A. - A Hollywood Memoir. Find her on StaciLayneWilson.com

5 Comments

  1. witchita on June 11, 2018 at 10:07 am

    Finally a movie critic that spoke the truth!! Your review is spot on!

    • Brad on June 11, 2018 at 2:34 pm

      I’m a bit surprised by those who feel like this film missed the emotional mark — perhaps Collette was a bit one-note, but she plays the hell out of it. There is some great subtlety and restraint in the writing and performances, which builds to some memorable, explosive moments.

      To address the potential plot holes you identify:

      “For instance, is there a police department in this town? A body is stolen from a grave but only one person knows about it.” This is definitely glossed over, but I can’t say that it’s a major hole — we just lose a scene of questioning from the police.

      “A creepy woman hangs around the playground of the school but no one notices.” — I think its pretty clear that, in both instances, this character is only visible to Charlie and Ben, respectively.

      “One character commits negligent homicide but is never even questioned.” — The film skips ahead from the incident, and discovery, to several months in the future. Again, police questioning isn’t particularly important to this story. The question of “blame” within the family, which is important, is addressed.

  2. Esme Evans on June 26, 2018 at 12:42 am

    I think there’s a thin line between “playing the hell” of a role and chowing down on the scenery, and in this film Collette is definitely on the wrong side of the line. And I definitely agree that these are not characters one cares about, so when they meet their gruesome fates, I found it hard to feel anything but numb. Other plot holes that bugged me: A kid suffers a serious anaphylactic shock attack at a huge party, and NOT ONE partygoer calls 911? Then another character has a bizarre seizure in a full classroom with a teacher present that causes him to contort his body into impossible positions and bang his head against a desk hard enough to draw copious blood and again, no one bothers to call emergency services? I don’t even want to think about the lawsuits that would ensue. Ridiculous!!

    I congratulate this reviewer for separating herself from her peers and being astute enough to recognize the idiocy of this film. I’m livid that I fell for the dishonest, overblown hype that took 2 precious hours out of my life.

  3. Brendan on August 23, 2018 at 10:15 am

    This is the perfect summation: “Have you ever wondered: What if Wes Anderson had directed Rosemary’s Baby?”

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for articulating what’s wrong without doing the usual review of “A promising opening spoiled by a third act that goes into familiar territory” that other critics did. It’s ponderous, and when it finally bubbles to the surface, the problem isn’t how basic it becomes, but the mania is too little, too late.

  4. James on September 5, 2018 at 7:20 pm

    Whilst I wasn’t particularly fond of any of the characters that didn’t mean I disliked them, and it certainly didn’t stop me from feeling for them in their situation. I don’t know how you can disassociate and not care when someone is in their place. I thought the tension building for the allergic reaction and crash scene, as well as the emotional aftermath, was fantastic film making, absolutely gut wrenching and heartbreaking. And whilst you may not agree with the reasoning for them marching towards their doom I think it’s fitting as a metaphor for the ‘hereditary’ theme. Also I have to agree with Brad here, those are hardly ‘plot holes’.

    Seeing the audience reviews sat at 60% on Rotten Tomatoes makes me wonder if this missed the mark or the audience expects differently from their horror films. Whilst I loved ‘IT’ I felt it was infinitely sillier, relied on far more genre tropes and overran yet it sits pretty at 84%. I think that maybe people weren’t ready to watch a slow burning and dramatic horror film. To me this was a Sicario compared to a Marvel flick. Went into this one with no expectations and came out with a firm favorite for my top horror film of the decade, but to each their own I guess.

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