Hereditary follows the odd, tragic and hellish dynamics of the Graham family: Annie (mom), Steve (dad), Charlie (daughter) and Peter (son). The movie’s opening scene is an obituary for Ellen, Annie’s mother, which lays out some of the family’s lineage right away, a list of predeceased members and survivors of Ellen. It’s a nice setup to immediately introduce some roots of this family tree even if we don’t know any of what it means. Marking the start of the puzzle you’ll be putting together as you watch until the end.
Annie works as an artist and creates meticulously detailed dioramas that mirror her memories and visions. Many of which replicate rooms in her own home and depict her family members as she sees them. These dioramas pop up throughout to help foreshadow future events and fill in blanks from the past. I also got the sense Annie uses this art form to help control and compartmentalize her grief and other things much, much worse.
So, is it scary? OMG YES ABSOLUTELY. But it’s more than scary, it’s emotionally gutting and if you allow yourself to sink down into the uncomfortable, harrowing moments of the Graham family, their trauma feels like an inescapable nightmare.
You spend much of the film thinking you’ve nailed down exactly what this whole thing is about and what the character/s need to overcome, and the writing continues to redirect you like some fucked up GPS. I continuously changed my answers from a movie about overcoming loss, to forgiveness, to a haunted house, etc. All seemed plausible and not unheard of in a scary movie, but the list just got longer. Each horrible moment is worse than the next. It doesn’t get better and there is no way to predict if it ever will. The writing doesn’t follow audience emotion like in a formulaic slasher film: where we know whose story it is, what the last showdown will probably look like and that the rest of the characters exist merely to be picked off. That’s what the audience wants from a slasher (and we love it!). However, each member of the family in Hereditary is fleshed out in some way where no one seems expendable. I didn’t want anything to happen to any of them.
Director, Ari Aster, uses multiple elements of horror we in the community look for: original, less predictable storyline, believable acting, interesting camera work, sickening tension, gripping suspense, violence, gore, ghosts/monsters/slashers (whatever fits), haunting score and hell, even jump scares. This movie has it all but the difference being, each element serves an actual purpose. Nothing feels hollow or for show. Not that every movie needs to do all of this every time, however, to witness all of that happening on screen AND you’re truly terrified AND your heart is being ripped out (emotionally) AND you’re failing to predict how it will all end…I related all of those feelings to the girl behind me blurting out through prolonged screaming, “What is this!??” after a particularly horrifying scene where I was having no trouble melting into my chair. The shadowy figure sitting behind me summed up my feelings so perfectly in that some of this movie is so indescribably disturbing and I’m not sure I’ve seen anything like it.
So, was it perfect? No, and that’s also objective, but I thought it could have been cut down in places and some of the pacing in the middle of the movie was a little slow and I don’t know if we needed as many seance scenes that we got but that was honestly about it.
But I pose that question because Hereditary has been increasingly hyped as the next Exorcist or Sixth Sense since January and that type of marketing can turn people off or raise the standard too high before anyone can even see it. I don’t believe those types of comparisons did Hereditary any favors because horror fans are awful about letting anything dethrone a classic, if it somehow even could.
After this opening weekend the horror community seemed very split on Hereditary. I have a theory that if Hereditary was released quietly, without as much in-your-face marketing and high praise comparisons, it may have won more of those people over who weren’t supportive. It would have been an indy horror gem with beautiful production value and sharp writing that no one knew about and horror fans had to go find on their own. But that’s also counterproductive. We want horror treated with respect and consideration for noteworthy awards and cited in the running with other ground-breaking films. There are many that deserve it! I think there is a complicated balance to keep the horror community happy. But Hereditary comes at a perfect time where just last week horror lovers everywhere clamored in anticipation for the Halloween 2018 trailer and we got our dose of a beloved franchise we all respect and can once again revel in that nostalgia come October. I have never been against remakes/reboots and in some cases have preferred some over the originals. That being said, I do think there is plenty of room for original ideas regardless if they're well received and this newfound psychological, sophisticated turn horror has taken.