Horror tends to be the most polarizing of genres – either you like it, even love it, or you can’t stand it. Those in the latter camp have the potential to be lulled in by Hereditary, which keeps its scary cards slipped up its sleeves throughout most of the film. Like a magician’s flourish, you’ll see a spook or an eerie moment here and there to remind you of what you’re watching, but by the time the real scares start, you’re liable to think you’ve fallen into a family drama.
Plot recaps are dull, so suffice it to say that Heredity uses fascination to draw us into this family and their odd lives. There’s an attention to character here that more horror movies, so often content to make their cast a series of cardboard cutouts waiting to be torn to shreds, ought to take note of. Each and every one of this story’s stars come with scars, or showcase some inner torments that manifest to make themselves unique. Memorable.
You don’t miss the monsters because the characters fill the void.
Hereditary spends the bulk of its non-scary time meditating on grief, loss, and the general concepts so common in depressing dramas that, without these characters, I’d want to call the film derivative. There’s the death of a relative that kicks off the whole thing, and the family copes with that loss in different ways, all of which come around to the choices they’ve made in their own lives that they regret.
Tinting all of this soul-searching are bits and pieces of mystery, the hooks that gradually seep into you as you watch, posing smoky questions that linger at the edges until… well, until the film decides it’s done playing around.
The latter part of Hereditary gets so out of control where it would, without the steady, introspective start, inspire laughter. Characters less fleshed-out, less interesting than these thrown into such sudden fantasies would cause other films to fall apart. You’d lose your suspension of disbelief because the things you’re seeing are so unbelievable, and the film hasn’t set that up to be the case.
But here you’re curious to see what happens. You know these characters now, and it’s engaging to watch their various ends, even if some of those ends feel cheap or too out there for the movie. And by the end you might feel compelled to look up the references, to dig deeper into the mythos Hereditary builds around.
When a movie leaves you asking questions, leaves you talking about it when the credits roll, that’s usually a good sign. At the end of it, I enjoyed the movie, though I think its first half deserved a finish more in the grounded realm in which the movie began. Given all the buzz, I had high expectations, and the characters in Hereditary met them, even if the plot didn’t get there.
Which, I suppose, reinforces that common point for all good stories – quality characters can cover for just about anything.
One more thing: Hereditary is streaming now on Amazon Prime, so if you’re looking to add a bit of creepy fun to your night, you can check it out for ‘free’ if you’ve already got Amazon’s ubiquitous service.