4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital copy; 2018; R for horror violence, disturbing images, profanity, drug use and brief, graphic nudity; streaming via Amazon Video, FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play, iTunes (4K/Dolby Vision), Vudu, YouTube
Best extra: A making-of feature, “Cursed: The True Nature of ‘Hereditary’”
LOOKING for art-house horror? Writer/director Ari Aster makes his feature film debut with “Hereditary,” a drama-shocker with elements of “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Exorcist.”
“For me, this was always a family drama first. So I wanted to make a film that was very firmly rooted in this very complicated family dynamic. They go through these very horrible things, and everything unravels into a nightmare,” Aster says in “Cursed: The True Nature of ‘Hereditary,’” one of three bonus features on the presentation from Lionsgate Home Entertainment.
At more than two hours long, it’s a bit of a slog. “Hereditary” opens with the funeral of Annie Graham’s mother. Played by Toni Colette, Annie is an understandably troubled soul. She’s got a great family; husband Steve is played by Gabriel Byrne, teen son Peter by Alex Wolff and daughter Charlie, 13, by Milly Shapiro. Each performance is flawless.
An artist, Annie specializes in miniatures, creating dioramas of the tragic events in her life. Charlie, an artist herself, seems to be following her mother’s footsteps. Her life has been marked with tragedy as revealed in a group for grief therapy. Perhaps that’s the reason behind the family’s unnatural silences and anxiety. It’s as if they’re just waiting for the next catastrophe.
About 30 minutes in, tragedy explodes like a bomb. Relationships begin to fall apart. We learn Annie was once a sleepwalker, who woke up drenched in paint thinner beside her children. The sound of a striking match woke her before they all went up in flames.
“‘Hereditary’ is about a lot of things. Ultimately, it’s about inheriting family trauma. It’s about what you take from your family or what’s thrust upon you and how you deal with it,” Colette says.
So yes, dysfunction happens – and only gets worse as “Hereditary” spins out. It’s a rocky journey, with big moments followed by slow sequences. We were checking the clock before its two hours and seven minutes came to an end. There’s also a plot hole impossible to get past regarding a family member’s past.
“Hereditary” received an 89 percent rating on Rottentomatoes, and 60 percent among viewers.
Mastered in 2K from 3.4K digital files, the film looks excellent on both the 2160p and 1080p transfers, with a rarely used 2.00:1 aspect ratio. Detail and color receive the usual enhancements on 4K/HDR10 and the 12 bit Dolby Vision, although the standard Blu-ray is quite satisfying. Much of the film is delivered in a soft, muted palette; while some extreme close-ups were captured with a shallow depth of field limiting the field of sharpness, which wasn't a bad option for some of the gory moments. Complexions are also de-saturated; it appears most of these folks have never known a day in the sun.
Aster and cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski (“Water for Elephants”) employ a shimmering light effect to announce supernatural moments. They also use a great deal of candle and firelight, and neon-bright space heaters to enhance emotional cues. It contrasts against blacks, where solid shadow-detail deliberately disappears.
Both the 4K and standard Blu-ray discs share a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. Dialogue is clear, while effects and a restrained score by Colin Stetson (“Arrival”) deliver an immersive punch. It’s not as good as it could be. An Atmos option would have provided great overhead effects, particularly in the attic and treehouse environments.
In “Cursed: The True Nature of ‘Hereditary’” Aster reveals he was fascinated by horror films as a kid. “Carrie” starring Sissy Spacek was one. Then there was the film by Peter Greenaway, “The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover.”
“It is not designated as horror although it’s so deeply upsetting,” he says.
“There’s this certain level of artifice that is aesthetic that always bothered me. It’s a film I end up showing people a lot before we make something, especially on this one because we were dealing with artifice.”
“Hereditary” was filmed outside Salt Lake City in Utah. Several homes were scouted for location shooting, but remodeling interiors was too costly. In the end, rooms were built from scratch. The next challenge was rebuilding them again in miniature form. Artist Steve Newburn (“Inception,” “The Dark Knight”) recreated the fully furnished rooms in miniature. They are showcased in the “Evil in Miniature: Photo Gallery.”
There are nine deleted and extended scenes.
Audience response has been sharply divided. Some feel “Hereditary” will become a classic; others, not so much. Even so, most will find it an unforgettable experience.
— Kay Reynolds