Hype springs Eternal, especially with horror films, as the 2017 reboot of IT would testify, and it rings true with Hereditary, too, unfortunately. Thinking about it, I suppose it really depends upon what you want from a horror film. Scares, sure, they would seem a prerequisite, but anyone can do scares in movies (well, jumps anyway) – it’s mostly a question of manipulation, timing and throwing a loud ‘boo!’ on the soundtrack. Trickier, really, is establishing a sense of mood and dread, and here Hereditary scores pretty highly. This is a horror film that drips mood and the threat of scares, delivering plenty of creepiness and shocks, which is likely why it received all the hype and positive word of mouth it did.
But for me it lacked any logic, any sense, and the increasing hysterics of the family started to descend into farce long before the film reached its rather Pythonesque conclusion. I think any horror film works best if it can establish some sense of normalcy and then raise the stakes as things go wrong but right from the start the main characters are over the edge, nothing really seems normal and it just goes wilder as it goes on. Okay, here be Spoilers, so here’s a warning, although I’m one of the last few to get around to having seen Hereditary:
A text card states that Annie’s mother has died and the film opens on her family at the funeral. Annie (Toni Colette) is really rather unhinged from the off, and while Colette’s performance has been widely praised it just seemed too crazed for me, leaving her nowhere to go but further Out There. Gabriel Byrne is cast as her husband Steve and he’s utterly wasted here, and fails to have any discernible chemistry at all with Colette, not the only casting crisis of the film (which I’ll turn to later). Events get increasingly nuts (sic) around Steve and he just does nothing in particular, really. The couple’s two kids are frankly peculiar- ten year old Charlie (Milly Shapiro) behaves very oddly cutting off dead birds heads (foreshadowing there, I think) and making odd clucking sounds with her tongue, while teenage Peter (Alex Woolf) mopes around looking permanently terrified, stares forlornly at a girl he fancies and gets high on pot. Normal?
Would any mother insist on sending a ten year old girl with a deadly food allergy to an unsupervised high school party with Peter, and would Peter, intending to smoke pot and hook up with girls at said party, so easily agree to his sister going along? How many high school parties take place in huge luxurious mansions and how many teenage hosts bake fresh cakes in the kitchen (loaded with nuts, naturally)? So without Annie insisting that they take an Epi Pen along with them, when his sister eats the wrong kind of cake and starts to react badly, instead of calling for an ambulance Peter, having already smoked some pot, decides to put his sister Charlie in his car and race through the night to hospital.
So Peter has an accident on route, decapitating, no less, his sister. He then calmly drives home, and goes to bed, leaving his sisters headless corpse on the backseat and her head at the roadside. So next morning whilst he is still in bed Annie goes out to the car and finds her daughters corpse (well part of it) and screams her head off (sic).
Where are the cops in all this? Surely someone finds poor Charlie’s head on the roadside? Surely Annie and Steve have to explain to the police, or even more likely, demand an explanation from the police, regards how Charlie lost her head and died? Manslaughter charges anyone? Driving under the influence? Poor parenting taken to task? Peter’s punishment seems to be that he has to bike to school in future. Indeed, he returns to school soon enough, has a seizure and is sent home having nearly smashed his head to a pulp on his desk. Hello? Hospital anyone? Counselling? Maybe the cops would be interested? Do they do Social Workers in America, are they a thing over there?
What really sent the film off the rails for me was the frankly bizarre casting of Ann Dowd as Joan, a woman who befriends Annie and sets her on the course of amateur seances and chatting with the dead. I mean, after stints in The Leftovers and The Handmaids Tale as crazy women with dark deeds in their minds, it’s like putting up a red warning light as soon as she appears. Terrible casting- I like Dowd and she was excellent in The Leftovers as a leading figure in a dangerous cult, but this is taking typecasting to some other level. Its lazy and its predictable- is anybody in the audience remotely surprised when it transpires that Joan is up to no good? Its getting so that everytime I see Dowd in something I audibly groan. She’s great at that kind of role but come on, she’s gone to the well too often, its run dry, it’s getting boring now.
It later transpires that Annie’s mother was a Satanist and she spent her life trying (and failing) to bring a demon to the world. It would seem that her Satanist colleagues dug up her body (when Steve is informed of the grave desecration, he decides not to tell Annie- I mean come on, someone’s dug up her mom for goodness sake) and somehow put that body in the family attic without anyone in the family twigging that strange Satanists have been in the house (other than somebody at one point wonder about a bad smell in the house).
Now, I may have it wrong, the film is obtuse to the point of making no sense at all, but it appears that said Demon is inside Charlie and this is why she behaves oddly and she has to die so that the Demon can escape her body, and that Peter has to die so that the Demon can enter his. One person has to die to lose the Demon, another die to be possessed by it? Did Charlie have to die before the Demon could enter her body in the first place, and was it a Satanist that put the nuts in the cake? When you really think about it, nothing in Hereditary really makes much sense. Annie’s mothers decomposing body up in the attic (for whatever reason) is apparently headless and for some reason Annie starts crawling on ceilings acting really unusual after begging Steve to burn one of Charlie’s notebooks and set himself alight in the process. He burns like a Human Torch but doesn’t singe the wooden floor much less burn the house down.
DId I mention that the family also just happen to have a big treehouse across the drive that doubles as a ritual meeting room for the Satanists? DId I see Annie decapitate her own head with cheesewire and then her headless body float through the air into said treehouse?Is that her mom’s also-headless body kneeling alongside her own before the now Demonic Peter?
People took this film seriously.