There's this discussion happening at the moment about an apparent discrepancy between audience reactions to HEREDITARY (which are surprisingly negative) and the almost unanimous praise it's received from critics. And having now seen it, I can understand why that might be the case. Ari Aster's first feature is an amazingly assured debut, and in all aspects of its production an objectively well made film, but casual viewers looking for a fun horror flick to escape from reality for a couple of hours are likely to be disappointed. HEREDITARY isn't so much a fun horror film as it is a relentlessly grim exercise in depicting demonic terror.
Comparisons to THE EXORCIST are certainly apt. Aside from the obvious touchstones of familial disintegration and demonic possession, it shares with Friedkin's film a sincere commitment to portray satanic evil as graphically and "realistically" as possible. The glee with which Aster wants to assault us with these sights and sounds is evident in the sheer level of detail that he's layered into HEREDITARY's many depictions of ritualistic occultism (not unlike the obsessive detail that Toni Collette's Annie puts into her miniature artworks). Indeed, the film places so much emphasis on this that it plays out as a sort of black magic procedural, and must be like crack for certain quarters of the black metal community (where it's surely bound for cult status). It should be noted that this focus on minutia is based on research: HEREDITARY's demon, Paimon, is a deity with a legion of devoted adherents to this day, and the sect's symbol in the film is Paimon's legit real world seal. Don't believe me? Google it.
At a certain point, around the middle of the film, HEREDITARY starts to feel so earnest, so dedicated in its intent to be as gnarly as possible, that I found myself being amused by the fanciful notion that the film itself might be a thing of evil. A demonic invocation in artistic form, requiring the participation of an audience to summon that which its director secretly worships.
No, I don't really think that Ari Aster is the leader of a satanic cult (even if his name suggests otherwise!), but that I could even jokingly entertain thoughts like that while watching HEREDITARY is a sure indication of its success. As with Liam Gavin's A DARK SONG, this is occult horror that eschews tongue-in-cheek self awareness in the pursuit of creating a mythology that feels truly grounded in realism, and is all the more scary for it. CLUCK!