The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape
Send this page to Twitter!  

THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



I've been a horror movie fan for a long time. Over the years, I've seen many hundreds, if not thousands, of them, both for review purposes and personal viewing pleasure. The truth is that, when you consume them in large quantities, the ability to be shocked is greatly diminished. Maybe it's because you become desensitized, maybe it's because you see the same elements being used again and again, maybe a combination of both. Either way, you get to a point where not much fazes you anymore. When one does come along that gets under your skin, you know it's special. I say this because Hereditary disturbed the absolute hell out of me.

Toni Collette plays Annie, a woman whose mother has just died. They didn't have the greatest relationship, so her feelings about the passing are mixed. Her family members – husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), son Peter (Alex Wolff), and daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) – all process the loss in different ways. Charlie, in particular, starts to exhibit some troubling behavior. Then another tragedy strikes. Immediately afterward, bizarre things begin happening to the characters, none of which should be divulged in a review. Annie isn't sure if she's imagining it or if there's some other explanation. Ann Dowd plays Joan, a woman she meets in a support group. No more will be said.

Obviously, one of the most acclaimed horror movies ever made is Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby. The reason it's so chilling is that it takes a slow-burn approach, digging deeply into characterization so that when the crazy stuff finally happens, it feels plausible on an emotional level, even though it is, of course, not plausible at all. Hereditary takes that same kind of approach. The first half of the film is very focused on how the family deals – and sometimes doesn't deal – with what has happened to them. Resentments come to the surface. Behavior grows erratic. There's a fair amount of avoidance. All of this sets the stage for what is gradually building in the background, namely a sense that something sinister is slowly enveloping these people.

Hereditary has a few of the standard jump scares, but the true horror comes from the way it makes you think about its subject matter. This is a film about mental illness and death. Those are uncomfortable topics. Writer/director Ari Astor sticks his finger right in the wounds, forcing you to confront them head-on. There is a scene in which Joan comforts a grieving Annie that might just put a lump in your throat. How many horror movies bring you to the verge of tears? Beyond that, Aster generates serious chills by suggesting that mental illnesses and mourning are insidious because they take over a person, making them feel inordinately vulnerable. They can, at times, feel like monsters looming over someone.

While much of the story's horror is thematic, there is still plenty that's more overt. Once the clues all start coming together, the ramifications for Annie and her family snap into focus. Hereditary provides some intensely shocking images, a couple of which could legitimately cause nightmares. The last seven minutes go for a level of horror that is as admirable as it is ghastly. Wes Craven had the best quote on horror movies. He said, “The first monster that an audience has to be scared of is the filmmaker. They have to feel in the presence of someone not confined by the normal rules of propriety and decency.” Ari Aster achieves this quality.

While the ideas and images are suitably scary, the film works as well as it does because the actors are uniformly superb. Toni Collette gives a hall-of-fame horror performance. Scenes where Annie grieves are powerful. Then, as she starts to figure out what's happening, the actress captures her sense of sheer panic. In a career full of strong work, this may be the best she's ever done. Alex Wolff is the other real standout, effectively depicting the way Peter realizes that he's caught up in a very, very bad predicament.

What starts as a slow, deliberate chiller gradually becomes a full-on descent into terror. When the screen cuts to black at the end, prepare to feel shaken. Please pardon the graphic language here, because there's no other way to accurately convey the feeling without the use of profanity: Hereditary is one of the most fucked-up horror movies I've ever seen. No higher praise can be paid.

( out of four)

Hereditary is rated R for horror violence, disturbing images, language, drug use and brief graphic nudity. The running time is 2 hours and 7 minutes.

Buy a copy of my book, "Straight-Up Blatant: Musings From The Aisle Seat," on sale now at! Paperback and Kindle editions also available at!

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.