There are brilliant X-factor horror flicks — John Krasinski‘s A Quiet Place, Robert Eggers‘ The Witch, Jennifer Kent‘s The Babadook, Andy Muschietti‘s Mama (but not It) and now Ari Aster‘s Hereditary — and there is the pig trough of horror-genre films.
Either you get what serious, classy, smarthouse horror films are up to, or you don’t. Either you understand that when a certain scare switch is flipped by way of hint, suggestion or implication (such as that little-ping moment in Rosemary’s Baby when Mia Farrow reads the journal of a recently-deceased victim of Roman and Minnie Castevet and comes upon the phrase “I can no longer associate myself…”), it connects with convulsive, deep-rooted terrors that are far more disturbing than anything you might find in It.
Not to paint with too wide a brush, but horror-genre fans tend to be on the coarse and geekish side in terms of their preferences. They’re basically about a general opposition to subtlety or understatement of any kind. Which is not to imply that Hereditary errs on the side of understatement. It certainly doesn’t during the second half. But the first half is almost a kind of masterclass in how to deliver on-target chills and jolts through fleeting suggestion rather than the usual sledgehammer approach.
In her 1.30.18 review of Hereditary, The Verge‘s Tasha Robinson wrote while Ari Aster’s film had been praised by Sundance critics as shocking and terrifying, there was nonetheless “some skeptical backlash from horror fans who felt burned by similar advance praise for films like The Witch and It Comes At Night, two extremely tense horror films in which not a whole lot ultimately happens.”
Robinson was dead serious. She really and truly felt that some horror fans (including herself?) felt “burned” by The Witch. Words fail.
From my 2.15.16 review of The Witch: “This is easily the most unsettling and sophisticated nightmare film since The Babadook. That’s a roundabout way of saying that the dolts who pay to see the usual horror bullshit will probably avoid it to some extent. Insensitive, all-but-clueless people tend to favor insensitive, all-but-clueless movies, and I’m sorry but The Witch is mostly too good for them — too subterranean, too otherworldly, too scrupulous in its avoidance of cliches. And because it goes for chills and creeps rather than shock and gore.”