‘Hereditary’ marketing misleads its audience right off a cliff

'Hereditary' marketing misleads its audience right off a cliff
Milly Shapiro stars as
Milly Shapiro stars as “Charlie” who (shocker) is nothing like her headlining Broadway role, Matilda.
Image: A24

Spoilers lie ahead for Hereditary. You’ve been warned.

On Friday, horror fans flocked to theaters to revel in and be tortured by A24’s new supernatural horror flick, Hereditary. 

By Sunday, the rising fright fest had been rocked by a D+ CinemaScore – though it held onto a 93% Certified Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and cashed in its opening weekend box office at $13 million. 

So, what got the audience members polled by CinemaScore so miffed? I checked out the alleged “scariest horror film ever made” late last night and am pretty sure I know who is to blame for disappointed audience members.

Don’t get me wrong. I loved this movie. It was devastating, revolting, and unsettling, and it completely ruined my weekend. It’s basically a dream for a glutton for punishment. 

No amount of anticipation the next frame can protect you from Hereditary‘s scares.

That being said, I get why some viewers left the film feeling like they’d been tricked by A24’s marketing. Depending on how this movie was presented to you before your showing, you likely left the theater either under- or overwhelmed. 

Claims that Hereditary was scarier than The Exorcist or better than Rosemary’s Baby set impossible standards for the indie film — and primed enthusiastic moviegoers for disappointment. 

More importantly, it also set expectations that the film would present itself as an instant classic of the genre. However, most “classic” films earn their place in the pop culture pantheon over years of popular consideration and critical analysis. Hereditary is simply too new to pull that off. 

Meanwhile, audiences chasing after the pleasant adrenaline rush associated with quick forgettable scares may have been taken aback by the deeply emotional storytelling and next-level disturbing imagery. Hereditary doesn’t build its legacy on jump scares and cheap gore. It goes all in on psychological terror, and no amount of anticipating the next frame can protect you from its effects. 

In anticipation of a classic possessed-girl narrative, I watched the trailers and gazed at the promotional posters featuring Charlie, played by young actress Milly Shapiro, in fear. But in a shocking twist, Charlie is decapitated in the film’s first half, Hereditary‘s cast suddenly loses its supposed masthead—if you’ll pardon the expression.

Even experts at covering their eyes at the last second can’t avoid the trauma of this particular scene. To add insult to injury, shortly after the graphic beheading, you get a surprise snap cut to a close up of Charlie’s rotting head being eaten by ants. Again, eye cover is completely impossible. That image is absolutely getting in your brain if you see this movie. 

So if you are more a fan of flicks like Happy Death Day and Truth or Dare — where being traumatized is totally optional, given the clear visual and auditory cues alerting you to impending doom — you may find yourself leaving theaters resentful.

Aster admitted to this marketing betrayal in a recent interview with Vulture. He explained that for most genre fans, a genre film is like “comfort food.” He continued, “There is a certain complacency that comes with watching a genre film, and if you want to transgress something, that’s kind of perfect that you have people sinking in. That complacency is good, because then if you are going to turn things on them, it’s a shock.” 

Aster certainly achieved his goal of shocking audiences with Hereditary‘s marketing to screen switcheroo. However, the question remains: Will Aster’s commitment to audience torture help or hurt his film’s long term success? 

Because, as it currently stands, the only financial certainty resulting from Hereditary is a massive uptick in my electric bill.

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Author:Alison Foreman

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