The end of a movie is like desert to a dinner. Some of them make you shit the bed.
Walking into Hereditary, I was told by many that this was the scariest movie in years. Having been also told this about Paranormal Activity and Insidious, I had my doubts and those doubts were confirmed. So far, A Wrinkle in Time is the only movie this year to make me cringe in the theater.
Not to say this movie is bad. In the Banned Library awards for technical merit, this movie gets high marks. It's pretty and effective and haunting. It gets five moms on the ceiling out of five for framing shots alone.
Hereditary follows a family unit after the death of the grandmother. The mom has some issues, the dad is the quiet stoic type, the son is an aloof stoner, and the daughter is fucking strange. When it seems like fate conspires to tear them apart, things do not go well. The following few hours are a study in grief that borders on perfect and yet falls apart when all is revealed.
At one point I got to laughing and my fiance elbowed me. That's when I knew the movie messed up. One of the most horrible events in the movie is the effect of death on the family. Without angering too many assholes who care about being "spoiled" yet cannot find their way to the theater, let's just say a very effective set piece happens leading up to and away from a death. It's horrific and the screams that follow are earned.
Then the screams continue. And continue. And keep on going.
I imagine the woman screaming going through her day to day life. Waking up, morning stretch, begin screaming. Screaming over eggs and bacon, pausing to take a bite. Screams in the mirror, her own shocked face staring back as she slowly brushes each tooth in circles. Spit. Rinse. Continue screaming, even realizing that she should not rinse after brushing her teeth.
Moments like that where something stretches too long, where I'm wondering how the Simpsons would treat this scene… Let's say they detract from the narrative.
I say that to also say that damn near ten to fifteen to maybe even thirty seconds of this movie focus on ants devouring a severed head.
That's damn effective.
After a solid hour and a half, and here's where spoiler people will cry, the cult gets outed. Turns out grandma was evil after all, the weird daughter was that way for possession reasons, and the only light in the whole thing was backed by darkness.
This turn is handled with the blunt hammer of Rob Zombie on his best day. Shining the light on the mystery of the plot feels so unsatisfying after everything that came before.
A bunch of naked people in a treehouse does not leave me with a sense of unease. It leaves me with a film that wants too much. It leaves me with answers to questions I did not really care about. The filmmakers only thought I did. While I can walk out still reeling with the memories of that head on the road and the mom on the ceiling, I also have what amounts to a voice over telling me the devil is in the house and I better get ready to party.
I struggle to imagine a scenario where that is frightening. The slack jawed look on Alex Wolff's face did not scream "the new Exorcist" but rather "Jumanji Got Brain Damage." No blaming Mr. Wolff, I have yet to see a bad performance from him, just the direction.
Special attention to Toni Collette. Not since that kid from Babadook have I hated a character more and yet respected the actor. That's what grief and pain look like, messy and broken and numb while also meticulous in how awful it can be. The reflections she brings to the other actors, the scenes, are haunting. Of course, when she's screaming about cult shit and nobody believes her then I get annoyed. Get your shit together before you lay out your case, girl. Just saying.
In fact, this movie would have been better if we had no idea about the cult. A little subtlety, the "is she crazy or is the support group a cult," would have made this a master work. Hereditary falls into the camp of Rosemary's Baby and falls short.
Like the guy who was laughing behind me as we walked out said, "I don't fucking believe they did that."