Evil runs in the family.
Currently getting up to date with “waitstaff recommends,” tonight we get a movie that I have some trepidation about. The last time a movie in the horror genre was raved about as this mind blowing, super scary, or super screwed up movie I got Paranormal Activity - and the only fear from that was being bored to death. Still, regardless of it it means the high rankings, it’s still a matter of if it’s going to be good to watch regardless. What’s it about? Don’t know. After watching it, I know a bit more, and I have to say that at one point I had a real heavy flashback to days of the past and that might not be a great thing for the outlook on the movie. Well then, let’s carry on and dive into the old family tree and see if these genes would be better off on a short branch.
This is a slow burner. Sure, there’s little “events” sprinkled about as the movie goes on, but oh man oh man. Whereas last week I made a mention of a movie that was longer than it seemed, this one would probably be the inverse for me. The pacing fits the movie of a family dealing with grief, so let me just get that said and out of the way. Being appropriate or not doesn’t make it feel any less casual to me however, and I spent a good deal of the first half wondering if anything was actually going to start happening at all beyond the few moments of ooh and aah that could be chalked up more to mental breakdowns than to anything outside the normal. Finally, when things do start kicking off, it still has some moments of drag that perhaps are to cause tension, but without the hooks in me to be too invested in the characters at this point it felt like some of the punchline setups would drag a bit longer than necessary. Still, I could see where the movie would provide a bunch of tension and a decent trek to someone more attuned to the family drama than someone expecting to get a chance at pooing their pants. A slow burn isn’t a bad thing, and it does handle the slow burn well in allowing plenty of character setup and story to slip in without feeling that much like a big lengthy chat-based expository dump - even if that’s exactly what’s going on (looking at you Grief Dealers support scene). It used it’s slow progression to it’s advantage when it could - it’s just unfortunate that I tend to much prefer something that gets to the point in this case.
The story at it’s core strikes as very familiar. In fact, I could draw a lot of parellels to the movie as a whole to something like either Paranormal Activity or The VVitch. That’s not to say that it follows either beat for beat like some cash-in clone, simply to say that if I had to label something similar to it those would come to mind. In the case of the first, it’s more like the concept of potentially spooky things used in a better format (not found footage) and with more story to bank off for more depth. In the case of the later, the pacing, the cinematography, the potentially loose interpretations left available to dig into, and again that strong not-normal element pulling from the shadows. I don’t feel like going into it too much, because really the story is the thing that should keep you watching it more so than the horror in my opinion, and if I give the entire thing away then it would really be to your detriment. That said, the movie carries a few twists foreseeable and not, and although it has it’s “weird” moments, nothing really strikes me as “that’s so messed up!” like I had heard from other places. I mean, when sudden naked people start showing up all over, I questioned if it was necessary, but if that’s their vision than go for broke.
And that vision, at the very least whoever is behind that camera, is a very pretty one. The movie is put together quite nicely, with plenty of color and light when it wants to have it. Miniature sets are used throughout - not so much that the actors are in them, as much as in the sense of an Artist diorama. These usually also tie into events or locations in the movie as a nice touch, but will also serve as segues at times with punch ins to live scenes and otherwise just have a very nice quality of craft to them. Some even set up some really nice atmospheric shots, providing at times more spook than the rest of the movie is giving at the time. Beyond that, we get plenty of times when the camera is utilized in motion, from flipping ceiling shots to spruce up walking down a hallway to tracked character shots with effect edits blended in quite seamlessly. It doesn’t just end their either, as especially during the final act we get plenty of play with whats in the frame or just out of focus of your eye. If someone watches this on a set without a good difference in it’s dark levels, I wouldn’t be surprised if some things went completely unnoticed at times - and that’s not even taking into account the subtle moments that tease at things to come.
The effects that are available to see here are mighty fine as well. A strange reflective shimmer can be seen throughout the movie, chalked up to as one of the paranormal elements of the movie, and it looks really well done, at times being pretty. Violent options are also available here and there, usually with plenty of foreshadowing before they happen and never being too overly grotesque. This isn’t a zombie movie at all, granted some might still find some of those few scenes rather unsettling for what it’s worth. Most of the spooks don’t rely on fancy effects work, seeming to more tie into just seeing someone who then is gone, or otherwise using an effect that could be practical or not - it looks that well. On the other hand, as there always tends to be, there are some moments that don’t look quite as good. A scene of skittering looks a bit hoaky, but by far the worst culprit of the movie is the horde of flies when it pops up. I get that it’s probably easier than training a real group of flies to be specifically annoying on demand, and surely it won’t bother everybody, but it would be a lie to say that it didn’t stand out to me.
Sound design seemed pretty dang good, with a few harder to hear moments being chalked up to - i feel - being intentional. Audio queues make their way in to reference things, being used to conceivable frightening effect, as well as drawing the attention about. Admittedly, I feel like I really missed out to some degree by still not having fixed my surround sound system, as there are moments where it really seemed like the sound could have pumped up the fear levels by putting you in the characters shoes. Heck, even without it there was moments I wondered if what I was hearing was something I just put down in my house or something in the movie. When it comes to music, I barely noticed any of it at all, so it’s doing a wonderful job of not overstating itself. There are some bits that I suppose could be called music, but sounded more like “tension build” sounds than explicitly something I would want to listen to on a soundtrack. I will also give it credit that despite having a cacophony of chords flying at you while it’s building, it didn’t to my remembrance ever really punch it to ear-hurting levels to give out a false scare. When it wants to scare you, it doesn’t jerk around - it just gives you the moment and goes back to what it’s doing.
The actors do a pretty good job here as well. There's a few times where perhaps the deliveries could have been a bit better or more believable, but by and large it’s done darn well. This is a good thing in particular here because of that slower start requiring the build of characters. If the actors are doing a rubbish job, or hamming it up way too much, then you loose that tension of whats to come for them because you loose all seriousness of whats going on. Yeah, the son can be kind of bland as a character, feeling a bit too much like a blank slate at times, but when he kicks in the emotive acting he really kills it and it helps to make you feel some of the impact it wants even if you haven’t cared much for the character before hand. The mother is probably the main star though - in regards to acting and the actual story really. This is a woman that you really believe is just descending into madness across the run time. There’s nothing really bad in the acting department - at worst I’d say mediocre.
In the end, I wasn’t perhaps as impressed as a lot of people were about Hereditary. It’s a perfectly okay movie - far better than the results the last time people hyped up a movie to me for sure - it just didn’t really strike me as exceptional “movie of the year” either. This could largely be to it being a bit more slow burn than I was really up to appreciate when watching it, or perhaps the escalation of the ending making things feel a little bit less like a tensely crafted story and more like something I didn’t sign up for. What the movie does well it does incredibly well though, and I can easily see why some people would like it as much as they do. The camera work alone kept me content through most of the movie, even when I felt things were dragging some. Worth watching if you want something that (at least mostly) feels pretty grounded with some crescendo of paranormal wails as it progresses.