glenn criddle | cynical celluloid | aug. 2018
“Hereditary" has certainly proved to be a divisive movie. On the one hand there's the critics. Most professional film critics seemed to have loved this film, myself included. On the other hand there's the audience with which this film provoked a backlash. At the time of writing, the movie has a healthy Rotten Tomatoes score of 89 percent from critics and a very contrary and mediocre score of 58 percent from the audience. So what's going on? Has the critic community gotten it wrong or is the audience missing something?
For me, “Hereditary" was an unusually good film: deeply atmospheric, well written and paced in such a way as to put the audience in a continual simmer until it was prepared to deliver a gut punch. It's not massively showy, it is a slow application of tension turned up by the uncanny feeling that there's something not quite right here and it's peppered with some truly shocking moments of horror. It's very old school in these regards, though it carries plenty of modern shocks in the occasional strongly gory moment; for the audience though, “Hereditary" was to some, boring, slow, ponderous, pointless and mean-spirited. As someone who loves horror and watches an unusually large amount of it, I can't help but be disappointed in some of the reactions from both sides.
For one, my fellow critics, especially the ones who have the fortune to have massive national and international platforms, I say this: Please, stop saying things like “This movie is the new Exorcist," that's clickbait nonsense and is usually misleading. By all means, use comparisons, that's fine, but trying to usurp a classic film is not only crass, it's annoying and is likely to provoke a negative reaction; it most certainly did here. In fact, “Hereditary" actually compares more closely Dario Argento's “Suspiria" in themes and tone, “The Exorcist" comparisons are minor and seem to be evoked just because it's famous, not because it's accurate. It'd be nice to see some lesser-known titles be evoked and it may just let audiences know these movies exist. Also, there's nothing more likely to gain contrary responses than claiming that a movie is “the scariest thing ever." Either the audience will deny it or they'll genuinely be let down by the claim; personally, I went in expecting nothing scarier than the astonishingly dull “Paranormal Activity," or another “Insidious" clone but was very quickly drawn into a horror story with old-school sensibilities.
As for the audience, it's different strokes for different folks as they say. But these days folks have access to the internet, a willingness to write (it's how I started) and the more hyperbolic the review, the more attention it gets. Negative reviews shouldn't be ignored or discouraged, but I do think audiences these days are less given to getting mentally and emotionally involved with a film's story and unless it grabs them by the throat and screams in their ears and this can negatively affect the opinions of a slower film unfairly. Do I blame them? No, funny enough. While a certain amount of this comes down to personal tastes and one's purpose for watching films, it has to be said that there has been a large increase in the blockbuster mentality in filmmaking over the decades. Films that are low in brains and high in action are two a penny now and audiences just don't have the same kind of patience they had 30+ years ago. The horror film scene has been dominated by films with lazy jump scares and gore scenes designed to draw your attention back to the screen at regular intervals and because the characters — most often — aren't actual characters, the story is razor thin. “Scary" to a film executive means bloody and explicitly violent; the audience often just isn't used to the kind of film that “Hereditary" is anymore. Hollywood is churning out franchise fodder at every opportunity and watering down what they make in an effort to pander to a wider audience. “Alien 3" and “Resurrection" anyone? How about what they did with “Predator" or “Nightmare on Elm Street"? Or how about the terrible things that Hollywood has done to “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." All dumbed down. It's a drip-drip of ruining your audience's expectations of quality.
These rebootsand reimaginingsthat do little to evolve a story to fit modern times do a disservice to the audience and the genre, they're treated like disposable assets that don't matter rather than the valuable stories they should be. They train the audience to be more passive in their viewing and responsive only to the spectacular, and if that's what you're used to, then yeah, “Hereditary" is very slow and uneventful.
I can't say that the film is perfect, however, for me it's pretty close to being so, as much as one can call a piece of art perfect at least, it's all very subjective. Whilst I don't think there is anything new in the divide between critics and the public, this case illustrates very well, the differences in expectations and experience of each group. Critics will always be at odds with the audiences to some extent; it's just that nowadays it's all the more obvious.
For my money that's fine as long as the discussion is honest and open, critics should be evaluating the movie beyond the cosmetic level and audiences should tell us what they want. In the meantime, I'll leave you with this mini review: “Hereditary" is a great movie if you let it be one. If you're looking to defy the critics or the hype then that'll be easy to do. If a slow pace isn't for you then it will be rather hard going, but if you're able to allow yourself to surrender to the experience the film can be deeply disturbing and creepy beyond anything I've seen in a very long time.
It's not the new Exorcist, it's better than that; it's its own thing.
He's British so forgive the extra U's and the use of the letter S instead of Z. If there's one thing that typifies Glenn's writing it's the 'Video Nasties,' a long list of movies that offended all and sunder during the 1980s in the UK. It's those seemingly offensive fringes of cinema that informed his writing on cinema and the more political area of censorship with a more sympathetic approach to those films that push the limits of taste. But don't worry, he does talk about normal stuff too and isn't likely to go off on a horror movie fuelled rampage.