Hereditary is an intense frightening tale of grief and horror, with maximum effect.
Hereditary is the first film of Ari Aster and with this supernatural occult horror he establishes himself as a promising director for the horror genre. Hereditary is a tale about grief, loss and trauma. It is as intense as it is terrifying with graphic and explicit horror scenes that will shock you. Aster doesn’t hold back and he exposes the viewers to gruesome horror for far much longer than they can take.
It combines drama and psychological horror with the occult and body horror. In the center of it all stands, or rather is sinking, a highly dysfunctional family whose situation worsens when death is at their doorstep. Within a realistic setting, symbolism is at the core, which makes it all too real, intimate and very disturbing. It’s a gripping, captivating and impressive emotionally charged masterpiece of horror.
When Ellen Leigh, Annie Graham’s mother, dies, her family is forced to deal with grief and loss, but also with the trauma slumbering underneath from Annie’s youth that surfaces. But in death Ellen Leigh has still a firm grip on her family and a sinister plan will play out, while the dysfunctional family of Annie and Steve and their children Peter and Charlie falls further apart.
Why you should watch it
Hereditary has a very intense, intimate and creepy atmosphere. The cinematography is beautiful and disturbing at the same time. The foundation, the Graham family is a family you can (but hopefully not) relate to. They are unable to communicate, they don’t relate to each other while past traumas still have an enormous effect on Annie as well upon her children and her husband who doesn’t understand and doesn’t have any more patience left. This alone is horror enough to see this family suffer in silence and solitude.
But the horror has yet to begin. And real horror you’ll get with this gruesome and relentless film. The tone of the film is very somber and the colors are somewhat bleak and dark. Communications and misunderstandings are frustrating and there is no comical relief anywhere. The pain they all feel and especially the personal pains and traumas Annie and Peter are going through is almost palpable and hits you hard and can make it sometimes difficult to watch.
The way the mental disorders or physical disorders are displayed is done in a respectful manner, and serves as a functional element in the film, and by no means is used as a shock value or to simply throw in some bizarreness adding to the maddening horror.
While being a sincere drama it plays out as a horror. Be warned for this is done very explicitly and some scenes are almost unbearable to watch. In particular the last death scene in the attic. Aster makes that scene a long lasting one, and if to describe it without spoiling it, it feels like someone is scratching his nails across a blackboard very slowly and for an excruciating long time. It’s a very daring scene and it works well to let the audience cringe.
But there’s much more body horror and psychological horror. Both creep up on the family unto a point that it becomes unbearable even, especially for the audience. Decapitations, supernatural creepy visceral horror that lurks in the dark, disturbing scenes, people catching fire, naked scary people and an overarching feel of total dread that fills and fuels this movie. This film does its best to make you feel as uncomfortable as you can be and succeeds tremendously.
Hereditary has a great buildup that works from a drama and trauma to a mystery and ultimately transpires as a tale full of terror and dread. It has a very dark and ominous feel, that keeps on coming. It is shot beautifully and with great care. The camera angles and what is shown add enormously to the horror experience. It’s rather breathtaking horror, for it all looks amazing as well, in spite of the horrific events. These events unfold from bad to worse and the way it is handled is very realistic focusing on the traumatic experiences while something sinister is unfolding as well. The miniature house Annie is building is a great representative of the past and serves as inventive flashbacks that clarify the actual flashbacks. Those miniatures have a very creepy vibe of their own, a mini story that hides many dark secrets.
This film is not for everyone. It’s tone and themes are sometimes complex and have a deeper meaning you must be willing to understand. The horror is bleak and brutal, and extremely graphic. The atmosphere is disturbing and relentless. And the characters are not that likable. It’s a portrait of a family in distress and they don’t even know it.
My favorite part
Each scene is a beautiful composition just like the miniature house that Annie builds. There are many surprising scenes when death shows up unexpected and cruel, harsh and violent as can be. But building towards the ending, the scene with Annie and Peter is a gruesome and terrifying combination of the supernatural, the occult and body horror. At the end the film comes together and at last there is some understanding of what is going on, way too late (for this tragic family), and unavoidable.
The whole film is working towards these last scenes and they are excellently executed and of outstanding horror. It is one of the most horrifying films I have ever seen that is an outstanding drama about pain, drama and grief, as well. It’s a different artful full-on horror, while the focus on beautiful, carefully made and artful cinematography is the only relief and beauty the audience gets.
Scare factor: ★★★★★
Gruesome factor: ★★★★★
Originality factor: ★★★★★
Cast and crew
Hereditary is directed and written by Ari Aster. It stars Toni Collette (Annie), Gabriel Byrne (Steve), Milly Shapiro (Charley) and Alex Wolff (Peter).
Duration: Music: 127 minutes. Colin Stetson. Cinematography: Pawel Pogorzelski. Edited by: Jennifer Lame, Lucian Johnston. Produced by: Kevin Frakes, Lars Knudsen, Buddy Patrick. Production company: A24, PalmStar Media, Finch Entertainment, Windy Hill Pictures. Distributed by: A24.