Over the last few days, you may have heard about a film called Hereditary (our review). Ari Aster‘s debut film has been heralded as one of the scariest movies ever made and a sure thing for the best horror film of 2018 (and it’s onlyFebruary). Six months before its release, the film already has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (based off of 16 reviews) and an average score of 8.8/10, which is pretty impressive.You may be overjoyed with the prospect of a new, original and terrifying horror film being released in the middle of summer. However, you may be dreading the film’s wide release not because it might be bad, but because like me, you know that everyone will probably hate it. Let me explain.
This phenomenon of a festival darling being praised after an initial screening only to be loathed by mainstream audiences once it is released is nothing new, but the horror genre seems to have been hit hard with this occurrence lately. Jennifer Kent‘s The Babadook premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2014 to rave reviews, only to see a wide release just four months later. It was met with a tepid audience response. That same year David Robert Mitchell‘s It Follows premiered at the Cannes Film Festival to critical acclaim, but when it was released 10 months(!) later it failed to make much of an impression with audiences. The same thing happened with Robert Eggers‘ The Witch (Sundance premiere in January 2015 and a wide release in February of 2016) and Trey Edward Shults‘ It Comes at Night (Overlook Film Festival premiere in April 2017 and a wide release just two months later in June 2017). I fear that the same thing is going to happen with Hereditary. As evidenced by the aforementioned films’ critical reception, they were all extremely well-received:
- The Babadook – 98% Rotten Tomatoes score with an average rating of 8.2/10.
- It Follows – 97% Rotten Tomatoes score with an average rating of 8.1/10.
- The Witch – 91% Rotten Tomatoes score with an average rating of 7.8/10.
- It Comes at Night – 88% Rotten Tomatoes score with an average rating of 7.4/10.
So why aren’t the majority of audiences being won over by these films like the critics are? Many will tell you it’s because they are over-hyped. These films receive rave reviews months and, in some cases, years ahead of their respective release dates. Mainstream audiences who are unable to attend festivals are then left to soak up the hype, reading review after review and article after article every week until the film’s release. By the time the film comes out, expectations are so high that the film can’t possibly meet them. Viewers walk out of the theater feeling betrayed by critics and let down by the film. Sometimes the viewer’s sense of betrayal is justified, like when a film’s marketing advertises a completely different film than the one that actually exists (as evidenced by the trailers for It Comes at Night, Bug and mother!). That reasoning is not true of films like The Witch, The Babadook and It Follows. With those films, viewers went on to bash critics and news outlets for hyping up the film. While it is true that some outlets can be hyperbolic when releasing articles about a film, they are just doing their job. Over-hype is partly their (our) fault, but the fact that the viewer doesn’t, or refuses to, share responsibility in over-hyping a film is baffling. After all, do they need to read all those reviews or watch the trailer multiple times a week?
An important thing to put into perspective is the festival-going process. When you attend a film festival, you are watching up to 6 films a day, every day, for 7-10 days. That means you could be watching anywhere from 42 to 60 films in a week and a half (the most I’ve ever made it to is 30 in one festival). Films start to blur together and flaws in them become more apparent, especially when you start seeing the same things done in multiple films. This means that when you see a film that is different, you’re likely to rave about it. Again, it can be hyperbolic, but in the heat of the moment, it makes sense. If you’ve eaten nothing but brown rice for every meal, then you’re bound to go a little nuts when you finally get a steak dinner. When you are a critic, you also have to review most of the films you see which means you have to really be in your head looking for things you like and things you don’t like while you’re watching a film. Your attention to detail needs to be razor sharp since you’ve got to write roughly 800-1,000 words for each review. It always makes me laugh when someone, after reading a negative review for a film, says that the critic who wrote it was just looking for something to dislike about the film. They probably were. It’s part of their job. Another part of their job to look for the good in a film. When I’m watching a film that I know I will be reviewing, I am looking for things that I like and things that I dislike so that I can write about those things in my review, but I digress.
The purpose of this article is to remind you that while over-hype is absolutely a thing that exists, there is a way to avoid it: read a review or two and mark the release date on your calendar (or just do what I do and check Rotten Tomatoes every Monday for a list of films being released that week). I’m not saying it’s entirely your fault for building up your expectations, but you’ve got to take some of the blame. If you end up not liking Hereditary because you don’t think it’s a good movie then there is nothing wrong with that, but if you don’t like it because it was over-hyped and it didn’t meet your expectations because you over-hyped it, then that is not a valid criticism.
Lest you think I’m scolding you with this article, it should be noted that I frequently do exactly what it is I’m telling you not to do. When The Babadook came out in 2014 I didn’t think it was anything special because I had such high expectations. The same thing happened to me with It Follows (though I have seen It Follows twice more since I saw it in theaters and I appreciate it more on each viewing). I have learned my lesson and have been working on managing my expectations ever since. I implore you to do the same. As we have discussed multiple times on this site, not every person is afraid of the same thing. Horror doesn’t have to scare you to be a horror film and we all have different ideas of what is scary. If 270 critics say that Hereditary is the scariest film they’ve seen since The Exorcist but you barely flinch while viewing it, that’s alright! But don’t take it out on the film because you thought that, based on the word of mouth you’ve been hearing for six months, it would be scarier.
It is inevitable that people will walk out of Hereditary feeling betrayed. I know that without having even seen the film because I’ve seen it happen too many times before. Just keep your expectations in check until the film is released on June 8th. Remember that there were walkouts during its premiere so not everyone will like it. Don’t obsess over reading reviews (although this one will probably give you the best idea of the type of film you are in for with minimal spoilers). Don’t watch the trailer once a day. If you do that then you will be setting yourself up for disappointment. It is very rare that the movie will live up to the version of it you have created in your mind. Go in expecting a pretty decent horror film and I bet you’ll walk out happy. Here’s the trailer if you choose not to follow my advice though: