I remember reading a tweet a while back that said something to the effect of “Horror movies are comedy movies when you watch them with a group of friends.” This claim, which can seem backwards at first, makes a lot of sense the deeper I think about it. It’s the same reason why going to an amusement park during their Halloween themes or a haunted hayride are so incredibly fun with the people that you’re closest with - it’s funny to see the people we love scared in generally harmless environments. Watching horror movies has the same effect, especially in jump-scare heavy movies like The Conjuring or Insidious. Both of these films are strong and scary on their own, but the biggest moments rely on the tension build-up and the eventual reveal of the source of the fear, typically in a sudden and striking fashion. Reacting to that scare, and the reactions of the people around you, has a very comedic feeling to it due to the relief that comes immediately afterwards. However, the horror movies that typically end up leaving their audiences the most spooked are those that do not rely on these jump-scares to instill that sense of uneasiness in the viewer. They may utilize the jump-scare in specific moments, but it’s never the biggest source of fear from the film. The movies that stick out in this category are The Shining, The Silence of the Lambs, and last week’s OTBMC Movie of the Week, Hereditary.
Watching Hereditary is not fun in the sense that watching most other horror movies tends to be. It doesn’t matter what group of people you watch this film with, there is going to be a lot less laughter and a lot more asking each other “what the hell is going on?” Director and writer Ari Aster put together a masterpiece that is a genuinely frightening watch from start to finish, with one of the most impressive feats of the film being how it subverts expectations. Going back and watching the trailers for this movie, the focus is on the daughter, Charlie. The first scene of the movie is based around trying to find where Charlie is so the group can leave for the funeral of the family’s grandmother, and the first act of the movie as a whole tends to revolve entirely around Charlie. So, as a viewer, you get connected to this character and are preparing yourself to follow along with her the whole time, and then (without spoiling anything) Charlie takes on a very different role in the film. It’s jarring and sets up the viewer with the knowledge that what you think you’re going to see in this movie is not what you’re actually about to be hit with.
Another aspect of Hereditary that is so fascinating is the editing and cinematography, specifically around the family home, where a lot of the film takes place. The tracking shots down hallways, the close-ups at the dinner table, the parallels between the miniatures and the actual house, and how these all end up coming together at the end of the movie so the viewer can understand exactly where and how everything is happening, it’s film genius. A couple specific shots that stuck out to me were the opening shot with the transition from the miniature into the actual house (absolutely incredible, I still have no idea how they did that so seamlessly) and Annie’s dream sequences (some of the scariest moments of the movie, the paint thinner and flames scene being my personal favorite). Also, the wide shots from outside the house with the cuts from day to night that are “blink you’ll miss it” fast had my girlfriend and me both impressed and terrified.
Every on-screen performance, especially from the main four in the Graham family, is so damn good. Alex Wolff as Peter is so convincing as a sixteen year old who doesn’t understand what is going on, but is really just trying to smoke and get through the days. The scene where he refuses to look in the backseat (if you watched you know exactly what scene I’m talking about) is one of the most powerful in the entire movie. Gabriel Byrne as Steve, the father of the family, nails it as a husband who is trying to take care of his obviously spiraling wife while also looking out for his children, and in her limited screen-time Milly Shapiro steals every scene as Charlie (every time I hear someone do the *click* I tense up). Also, shoutout Ann Dowd as Joan for holding up one of the more difficult roles in the entire movie. However, Toni Collette as Annie is far and away the best performance of the film and one of the best in horror movie history. Every moment she’s on screen she is perfect, from the funeral to breaking down in group therapy to the family dinner to her dreams to the seances to her time in the attic, every moment is excellent. Her expression change after trying to prove to Steve that she is the link and she fails in trying to kill herself is absolutely terrifying and I still get shudders just thinking about that moment. The fact that she wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar for this performance is criminal, but she’ll be remembered forever in horror movie lore, which is even more note-worthy.
If you didn’t get the chance to watch Hereditary this week, treat yourself and watch it on Amazon Prime ASAP. I tried to stay spoiler free as much as possible in this review so even if you’ve made it to this point you can still go in with the blind experience. Whether you’re into horror movies or not, this one is worth letting yourself be scared for. It made the On The Block Podcast’s Top Movies of the 2010s draft for a reason, and it’ll give you something to think and talk about for days on end. As we move into a new week, the next movie on the list for the OTBMC is another A24 production, the Safdie Brothers’s Uncut Gems, which can be found on Netflix and for rent in other places. Also, this is the last week I will be deciding the movie for the club. From here on out you can expect to see a poll on my Instagram @jp_terrell for the audience to decide what the next movie of the week will be. Look out for that and I will talk to you guys next week!