Hereditary Blu-ray Review (originally published 2018)
When Ellen, the matriarch of the Graham family, passes away, her daughter's family begins to unravel cryptic and increasingly terrifying secrets about their ancestry. The more they discover, the more they find themselves trying to outrun the sinister fate they seem to have inherited. (From A4’s official synopsis)
Typically, horror films about domestic breakdowns are tied to the Gothic tradition. Even modern revisitations of these themes tend to take certain tropes into consideration with large, empty houses standing in for castles, neurotic housewives standing in for anxious heiresses, and ambitious businessmen standing in for stodgy aristocrats. In the years that followed, another component was added to the mix – the evil/haunted child. Not all evil child movies are also domestic breakdown movies, but framing a typically vulnerable character as a key antagonist is a satisfyingly simple way to underline the themes of a household’s horrifying disintegration. Even more recently, the filmmakers behind The Babadook (Jennifer Kent, 2014) and The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2015) subverted these evil child and domestic breakdown rituals further by turning children and devils into saviors, and bereavement and religious belief into threats. When it works, first-time feature writer/director Ari Aster’s Hereditary takes the entirety of domestic breakdown cinema into account.
Hereditary works just fine as an artsy, deliberately-paced corrosion of a family unit. It offers a few smart, real-world angles on horror and dramatic traditions, and lets its top-tier cast the chance to sink their teeth into unabashedly emotional situations. It plays with Gothic atmosphere and post-modern conventional transgressions in a unique manner that doesn’t turn up its nose at grotesque imagery or gut-punching shocks. It’s also a little bit too long, loses focus at inopportune times, and its lack of consistent, teeth-gnashing scares will probably bother plenty of viewers. Upon this cursory viewing, I found that the key narrative theme is a bit muddled – or at least it feels like Aster splits focus in a manner that fractures the ‘rhythm’ of these ideas during the first half of the movie. Generally speaking, another editing pass would probably cure the film of most of these issues, though such actions might also rob it of some of its off-kilter appeal. On the other hand, the prevalent visual themes are laced in a kind of dark, pseudo-satire that solidifies some of the most nebulous sequences. Situated atop the existential terrors are amusingly demented portrayals of sentimental Americana; something that is more or less literalized when Toni Collette’s character deals with her grief via dollhouse memento moris (which are then contrasted against her daughter’s more gruesome dioramas).
Hereditary was shot using Arri Mini and Amira digital cameras, coupled with Panavision lenses to create a slightly more ‘filmic’ look. The film is framed at 2.20:1, which, as a random aside, I’d like to point out is slowly becoming a popular mark of ‘prestige’ in streaming television. Anyway, the image quality on this 1080p Blu-ray fits the expectations of most modern, digitally shot genre pieces in that it is clean and clear without losing the spooky impact of low-light situations. Aster and cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski occasionally push the darkness beyond the pale (the bulk of the film is actually eerily warm and bright), leaving a handful of sequences almost too dim to discern, but, for the most part, their compositions are smartly balanced for maximum impact. I’ve definitely seen much worse from less thoughtful filmmakers over recent years. The brighter shots are swimming in texture and complex detail (as much as the pin-pointed focus will allow); all without any notable compression effects and minimal digital noise. Color quality is eclectic and consistent, but also desaturated to maintain the downbeat mood. Blacks are clean and deep when necessary and, aside from those impossibly dark shots, not too crushy.
Hereditary is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound. Dialogue and incidental effects are neatly tied to the necessary speakers. The sound design takes a natural approach that is fiendishly undermined by the overbearingly grotesque nature of some noises. Composer Colin Stetson – known for his contributions to 12 Years a Slave (2013) and The Rover (2014), as well as his collaborations with Arcade Fire and Bon Iver – offers up a scary, pseudo-avant-garde score that blends with in-film sounds, giving it an extensive directional presence throughout the movie. In fact, the ‘music’ is the most expressive channel-to-channel element and what gives the mix its oomph.
Nine deleted/extended scenes (15:46, HD) – These are made up of character moments, rather than major narrative beats.
Cursed: The True Nature of Hereditary (20:08, HD) – In this made-for-TV EPK, Aster mentions his biggest influences (Brian DePalma’s Carrie, 1976, and Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover, 1990), then discusses the film’s major themes and production along with cast members.
Evil in Miniature dollhouse photo gallery
Trailers for other Lionsgate/A4 releases
I’m sorry this was such a short review, but I’m quite under the weather and think that a deeper dive would entail a multitude of spoilers. Perhaps these are just excuses, but I apologize if that falls short of my normal standards. The long and short is that Hereditary has some sloppy seams, but it’s still a truly unique take on loads of old horror traditions and it sports a woefully underreported sense of humor. This Blu-ray looks and sounds just about perfect and comes fitted with some pretty extensive deleted scenes, as well as fluffy, but informative behind-the-scenes discussions.
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Full-sized versions can (currently) only be accessed by right-clicking/ctrl-clicking the images and opening them in a new window/tab. Note that there will be some JPG compression.