Every film lover should try to go to Sundance at least once, for only then can you understand the mad fervor that surrounds every buzzworthy premiere. Hundreds of non-VIPs will freeze their butts off in the snow, often for hours, to score rush tickets to a film that, when it's finally released to the public, will be barely noticed. (When I went, in 2003, The Singing Detective was the quintessential example of this; it finally earned just $337,000 at the box office.) Snag a seat and the fervor persists: a pretty good film, playing to an excited audience in a packed theater in Park City, becomes really good, a must-see, an instant classic. And it sells to a distributor for $10 million.
Sometimes that Sundance fervor is justified, as with Get Out. Sometimes it's not, as with Hereditary.
Hereditary is an over-the-top chamber piece, set mostly in a handsome Craftsman-style house that looks like a set, about a family who has just lost the grandmother that they didn't know very well or like very much. In fact, Granny was essentially estranged from the clan, until her dementia forced them to take her in and care for her during her final months.
Not long after her death, supernatural things start happening around the home. I won't give away what, as these reveals are possibly the only fun you'll have watching the film.
Hereditary qualifies as a horror movie, but it's a very slow burn, with little actual suspense and few of the usual tropes. Even its two or three jump scares are very mild, and this is coming from the biggest jump scare hater you'll ever meet. There are a few disturbing images – one in particular forced the folks in front of me to look away from the screen – and a creepy atmosphere, but the whole thing winds up being so much blarney.
The biggest problem I have with Hereditary is that the hogwashy story that writer/director Aster ultimately settles on has nothing to do with the actual, genuinely horrifying event that hits this family earlier on. Either that or the two are connected in some way that went over my head. Even the amazing miniatures that fill the house – the family's mother, played by Toni Collette, is an artist who builds autobiographical dioramas – are, in the end, irrelevant.
Collette has been garnering rave reviews for her performance, but the actress's (relatively) unselfconscious approach to her craft makes for some unintentionally hilarious line readings. Still, she's at least entertaining. I can't say the same for a stolid Gabriel Byrne as the father and a mouth-breathing Alex Wolff as the son. (Milly Shapiro, as the daughter, has a naturally misshapen face that makes me pray puberty is kind to her.)
This is one of those polarizing films that will either draw you under its spell or have you sniggering at its portentousness. I'm not much for sniggering, but the film just didn't work for me. It's got a few good moments, and the germ of a great idea, but I found its execution mostly just silly.