By Megan Bianco
The horror movie genre is one that I sometimes feel has become over-exposed and exploited over time. And not particularly by the industry and filmmakers, but more so from the fan base. It’s like heavy metal. There are some good metal records out there, but something about the campy following holds it back from being completely respected.
Of course there are quite a few good horror films—groundbreaking even. Psycho (1960), The Exorcist (1973), Jaws (1975) and The Shining (1980) are the most obvious and popular examples. But the same people calling those movies their favorites are usually also endorsing crap like Friday the 13th (1981), Saw (2004) and Paranormal Activity (2007). Insidious (2010) and The Conjuring (2013) straddle the line between solid and schlock. Newcomer to directing Ari Aster recalls the best of the genre with his first full-length feature with Hereditary, out in theaters right now.
The film begins with a local Utah family attending the funeral of Annie’s (Toni Collette) mother with Annie’s husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), son Peter (Alex Wolff) and daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro). The trailer leads you to believe there might be some kind of strange, supernatural connection between Charlie and the grandmother, but there’s much more going on in the actual film. It’s pretty conventional, but the directing style and execution are enough for me to not want to tell you anything else. The performances from the cast certainly deserve the attention.
Hereditary intentionally evokes horror classics like Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and Don’t Look Now (1973), and fortunately is creatively original in its own right to not be considered a knock-off. The new slow-burn horror tale is brought to us by A24, which is currently the uber-popular independent film distribution company that also gave us Under the Skin (2013), Ex Machina (2015), The Witch (2015), The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017) and First Reformed (2018).
Like Hereditary, all these movies are artsy, unnerving, creepy and unforgettable. But unlike Hereditary, all were introduced in indie/arthouse theaters for a limited release. For some reason Aster’s movie was released in mainstream, stadium theaters, and that’s causing a rather jarring audience reaction. Some have had a genuine, intriguing interest in what unfolds throughout the story, while others have been left heckling.
Not to sound like a broken record, but many critics, writers and media personalities have been complaining about how modern audiences have become desensitized to jump scares. I’m wondering when viewers will ever appreciate atmospheric, dialogue-heavy horror again. I know that sounds pretentious, but I don’t know what else would cause such a divisive reaction during screenings.
Hereditary and First Reformed are evidence that 2018 is shaping to be a pretty solid year for American cinema. They’re both a lot to take in, and I don’t necessarily want to see them again anytime soon. But I’m still thinking about them weeks later, which is more than I can say for a lot of the movies I see on a regular basis.
Megan Bianco is a Southern California-based movie reviewer and content writer with a degree from California State University Northridge.
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