Choosing a film depends a lot on one’s mood on the day. I glimpse at headlines as a kind of insurance that the choice of film I want to see will be half-decent at worst and I won’t feel cheated out of a chunk of my life and money.
Going to the multiplex or the independent venue has always been my way of relaxing. Conned into seeing so many over-hyped pieces of junk you learn how to choose wisely. Hereditary, starring the inestimable Australian talent Toni Collette, has attracted rave reviews. It seemed a safe bet, and I felt a scary plot just what I needed to get the skin crawling again..
To Collette’s credit she’s teamed up with a first time director, always a risky venture for an established actor. It can pay off. Bruce Willis in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense is proof a smart talent agency can create a winner by putting all the right ingredients together to give their most experienced clients the confidence to work with the new. Hereditary is given a 93% satisfaction rate by cinemagoers on the Rotten Tomatoes website; so, somebody’s happy.
Filmmaker Ari Astor got to show Hereditary at the Sundance Film Festival, a tribute to the quality of any independent production, and now it’s in the big cinemas, a sign that the distributor felt it has the power to put bums on seats.
As for his inspirations, Aster mentions “Don’t Look Now,” “In the Bedroom,” “Rosemary’s Baby,” and “The Ice Storm,” plus Peter Greenaway and Powell and Pressburger the distinguished British filmmakers. Well, he wouldn’t cite crap ones, would he? Odd he doesn’t mention king of the creepy psycho thrillers Shyamalan.
The film is tosh. Astor knows where to point a camera lens, and how to get his actors to sustain a silent scream or a look of horror, but the plot is bunkum from start to finish.
Granted, the images will entertain a young generation uninformed of past classics, though they giggled and laughed at the over-the-top ludicrous epilogue in the cinema I was in. There are no jolts to the viewer’s nerves, no hands coming from nowhere to grasp a shoulder from behind, just lots of psychological mayhem, screaming, running about or walking very slowly as if dumped in one’s pants. None of the plotting stands up for a minute.
Over-wrought mother Annie (Toni Collette) of morbid daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) and catatonic son Peter (Alex Wolff) first loses her mother, and then the body from the grave. (Continuity can’t get the date right: one minute April 2018, the next October 2017.) The death sends the whole family into a spin despite sterling support from stoical father of this rural group Steve, (Gabriel Byrne) who does his best to console everybody and blub in private. He’s not of retirement age but we are not told what he does for a living. His common sense protestations such as calling the police all go unheeded by the rest of the manic Graham family, and being no other house nearby, there’s nobody to run to for help. In the middle of a mountainous region mobile phone reception is excellent. A dinner at the table is always a nightmare of tension and resentment.
Later Annie loses her daughter in a freak road accident when Peter is driving. The moments leading up to that incident make no sense whatsoever, yet the filming is so good and the acting fully committed we refuse to step back and see the mess for what it is, completely contrived from start to finish. Now Annie hates her son. Or does she?
One day Annie is befriended by a woman called Joan (Ann Dowd) who says she lost a son in an accident but spiritualism helped her find him again. She looks mumsy but you know she’s a messenger from the Devil. Osculum inflame is everybody’s greeting.
From there on the plot gets sillier and sillier. Somewhere in all the mishmash there is a dog in the household which nobody walks, pats or feeds. It comes and goes depending on whether the dog wrangler turned up on the set during filming.
Annie spends her days making model dolls houses. She’s even got an art gallery ready to put on an exhibition. In her little workshop she creates miniature worlds that she is able to control. The big world where humans live defeats her completely.
Now, I admit all horror films that involve demon worship are tosh, Carrie is one, but some such as The Wicker Man, are cleverly constructed to hide the blazing truth until the last minute while giving us all the evidence on the journey. At the end everything adds up. People who seemed disconnected from the proceedings were in fact involved, unexplained deaths are explained, the villain was always obvious if only we had been paying attention.
Here is a snatch of dialogue from the demons sequence:
JOAN: You are Paimon. One of the eight Kings of Hell. We have looked to the northwest and called you in. We’ve corrected your first body and give you now this healthy male host. We reject the Trinity and pray devoutly to you, great Paimon: give us your knowledge of all secret things and all mysteries of the Earth; bring us honor, wealth and good familiars; and bind all men to our Will, as we have …
Hereditary does it best to emulate that genre but fails. The dialogue is often clunky. What it does do well is set up a conventional scene and then give it a twist you didn’t quite expect. For all its twists and turns it lacked surprise or tension. There are gruesome shots of dead bodies, thankfully none of the lifeless, humourless script.
I can see what it is saying about over-worked mothers, or too trusting fathers. What it says is trite. It has nothing to say about family life expect we all have the seeds of destruction in us. The gross death of Charlie, head out the car window, elicits no empathy because she’s such an unprepossessing person and the freak accident is too pat. Peter is so moronic you wonder if he’s a walking zombie.
And in spite of her giving her all to the role, Toni Collette can do nothing but look horror struck, perplexed, horror struck again, and finally frantic. The script doesn’t give her the chance for subtlety. In one particular corridor scene, Annie arguing with Steve, Collette looks uncomfortable, not in character, unable to believe in the words she’s speaking.
A horror of a horror film. I fear this review puts me in the minority. Go see it for yourself and tell me what you think. Rosemary’s Baby it ain’t.
- Star Rating: Two stars
- Cast: Toni Collette, Gabriell Byrne, Alex Wolff
- Director: Ari Astor
- Writer: Ari Astor
- Cinematographer: Pawel Pogorzelski
- Composer: Colin Stetson
- Duration: 2 hours 7 minutes
- RATING CRITERIA
- 5 plus: potential classic, innovative. 5: outstanding. 4: excellent. 3.5: excellent but flawed. 3: very good if formulaic. 2: straight to DVD. 1: crap; why did they bother?