At the end of the month, the great and the good of Tinsel Town will don their priceless gowns and dinner jackets for another bash at this year’s Academy Awards. The proceedings will not, however, be a pompous night of celebration, booze, and bombast for all who made breathtakingly wonderful films last year; far from it in fact. Hereditary, the directorial debut (and perhaps career defining moment) from Ari Aster has not received a single nomination at this year’s awards. This news, unfortunately, will boil the blood of only a small minority amongst the movie-going public as, through no fault of their own, few will have heard of the picture, let alone sat through the gruelling two hours and seven minutes of cripplingly terrifying cinematic prowess. For those who did make it safely to the credits, you may take a bow and stop reading now; there is no new information for you here. This article will do nothing more than confirm what you already know about Aster’s Hereditary. I say this because I defy anyone who has a pulse to watch this movie and not be inconsolable by the end.
Without revealing too much, Hereditary tells the story of a family that slowly succumbs to the power of grief with devilishly dark undertones. For those accidental viewers who were simply looking for a ‘cheap scare’ and happened upon this particular film (of which I was undoubtedly one), the emotional experience can only be described as akin to the feeling of immeasurable regret that clobbers hapless rollercoaster riders as the restraints on their seats lock tightly into place before their rickety journey upwards. The sense of dread is all encompassing and inescapable, and unlike so many others in the horror genre, this film flourishes with a master of his craft at the helm.
The greatest Oscar injustice of this year was the failure to nominate Ari Aster for either Best Director or Best Original Screenplay. His work on Hereditary is simply unparalleled, breathing new life into a somewhat tired avenue of horror films dominated by unremarkable demons and possession stories. Most powerful perhaps is the director’s effortless portrayal of familial grief and the subsequent dissolution of the family unit, a development which in turn leaves the viewer helplessly vulnerable (in a way I have never before seen) to the most poisonous emotion of all: fear. He masterfully takes a Hollywood trope that has been used to great success over the years, from Aliens to Jurassic Park, and flips it around to create an equally powerful cinematic display. Therefore, instead of witnessing a family’s triumph in the face of adversity, we see a family tearing itself apart in gut-wrenching fashion, so much so that even the hardiest of cinema goers will be left shaken by the film’s relentless scares.
In light of this, one must ask how the Academy can deny a director who, unlike many of his contemporaries, has such an apparent talent when it comes to scaring us where we scare the most. On closer inspection, it’s quite simple really; the picture isn’t quite Hollywood enough. It was Hollywood enough for the Gotham and Independent Spirit Awards, both of which bestowed nominations and awards upon the cast and crew like they were going out of fashion, but for the big dogs of LA movie making, it just wasn’t enough. For all my fury and anguish however, this really shouldn’t come as a surprise. Hereditary is not an easy picture to come to terms with; it is fundamentally disturbing and unforgettable, but not in a ‘package it up and sell it on’ Hollywood kind of way. In comparison, John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place appears on the bill of Oscar nominations and is perhaps the best example of a so-called ‘safe’ horror movie. It’s not as skilful as Hereditary, and its performances aren’t as powerful (Toni Collette’s nomination snub for Best Actress is simply unforgivable). Krasinski’s A Quiet Place is, however, far less troubling than Aster’s, and therefore more readily consumed by those who wish to forget all they have seen when the curtain comes up. As for Ari Aster and Toni Collette, I can only hope that these Hollywood injustices do not discourage them in the future from doing what they do best. At the end of it all, I’m still sleeping with the lights on.
Words, Mark Hegan
Images, PalmStar Media