HEREDITARY (2018, Ari Aster)
After some brief obituary text, it opens on a shot of a dollhouse and moves in to fuse live action into one of the bedrooms. That artificiality seeps into the rest of the movie and the result is a thrice-removed distance so impenetrable that even the upsetting, creepy horror imagery fails to land. Even if you love a good scare or Mike Flanagan-style unsettling dread (OCULUS wipes the floor with this), you’ll be disappointed by just how inert this becomes.
Heavily burdened by its own philosophy about free will vs. inherited traits (an early classroom scene spells it out in painfully obvious terms), Aster’s film debut is an obnoxiously showy piece of theater, despite some clever ideas. Take the dollhouse metaphors (Collette is an artist specializing in turning her own trauma into gallery-ready miniatures) and ladle it with ostentatious pans and tilts demonstrating Camerawork, added to characters who are mostly chess pieces, and you have a work that is constantly shouting at you that it’s a Movie, and as such it’s impossible to lose yourself in the story and become involved in its satanic supernatural horror.
We’ve seen plenty of fright flicks focused on family, and many of them work — but this is a family incredibly difficult to identify with in any way. Collette and Byrne appear to have just met each other last Thursday (and she might be wondering why this 70 year-old has two teenage kids with her), and while she’s reliably great (often the case), he’s lifeless and annoyed. Then there’s Alex Wolff as Peter, forced to carry a huge load (a good chunk of this bloated 2-plus-hour runtime is spent on close-ups of Wolff’s aghast face) and can’t carry through. He’s a bad enough actor, and the character lacks enough of an interior, that the distance is even worse. You won’t care about him or anyone else in the family that much, so the effect of watching this is that of an entomologist staring at bugs crawling around in a jar. Plus, even the attempts at comedy (and there are a few big, intentional jokes) ring hollow because they’re shoehorned into such serious, weighty generational angst. This a morose, arrogant debut that isn’t devoid of isolated pleasures, but the sum of its parts is so phony that nothing will get under your skin.