After watching the trailer for A24’s latest horror flick Hereditary (and learning that it had been produced by the same folks as The Witch), I was immediately intrigued. When the film was finally released, I casually purchased tickets without much consideration. I had no idea what the hell I was getting myself into.
On the day of the showing, I arrived at my local Alamo Drafthouse Cinema with my lovely fiancée. We ordered a cornucopia of refreshments and settled in. As the film began, the first thing I noticed was the immaculate cinematography. As an art college graduate and connoisseur of composition, this was certainly a treat. I recall one specific scene featuring the main character Annie (played by Toni Collette) delivering an important monologue. She is seated with a number of others, and the camera depicts the entire group from a slightly aerial perspective. The camera then zooms incrementally toward this focal character as the dialogue continues. Over the course of maybe 45 seconds, Annie’s expressive face nearly fills the screen. The shot was beautiful and seamless, and the rest of the film followed suit.
As the film progressed, the audience became acquainted with the family, and although the story progressed slowly, the narrative remained engrossing. The characters are unique, and the tale they find themselves in is captivating and unpredictable. But suddenly there’s a baffling and jarring plot twist, and the tone of the film changes from that moment forward. In all, Hereditary contains engaging drama, tasteful supernatural elements, heavy symbolism, and impressive amounts of ancient lore. Also, I’d be remiss if I failed to mention that Toni Collette’s performance was truly outstanding.
To avoid spoilers, I’ll have to stay a bit vague. And, while I do believe this is an excellent film, the short-lived trauma it inspires makes me hesitant to give a full-fledged “recommendation.” As a grown 34-year-old man who usually chuckles during horror films, I found myself watching the last twenty minutes through the cracks between my fingers as I nearly succumbed to a panic attack. Let’s just say you’ve been warned.
To be honest, this film haunted me. It was nearly indistinguishable from some of my actual nightmares — except this time I was awake (and, for some reason, paying for the experience). I didn’t sleep well for the next several nights afterward. Although I only technically saw the film once, it seemed as though I had sat through dozens of viewings; the images kept replaying themselves in my mind. In lieu of the slumber I hoped to find, I ended up cowering under my blankets like a pathetic little rat, certain an apparition would emerge from the closet and terrorize me at any moment. One morning I awoke to find that the closet door was closed (the one that’s always open). “I guess it was the ceiling fan,” I thought to myself as a chill ran down my spine.
But the more I thought about the film, the more I picked up on tiny details and important aspects of the plot. I’m sure everyone hears the phrase “everything happens for a reason” from time to time. Although usually vacuous when used in reality, this obnoxious maxim is actually the key to understanding the story of Hereditary.
Directorial newbie Ari Aster made a film that was classified within the genre of horror. If the goal of horror movies is simply to horrify their viewers, then Hereditary was undoubtedly a success. But this film is much more. I recall Aster clarifying in interviews that he wanted this work to function primarily as a “family drama.” Regardless of the manner in which the audience is violently abducted against its will by the terrifying turn of events, the story is ultimately about family.
Leaving my first-world white man trauma aside, I must concede this is a phenomenal film, and it’s diffucult to think of equivalents. In terms of the family element, the creepiness factor, and the profound discomfort, I would compare Hereditary to Goodnight Mommy. In terms of primary influences, The Shining definitely comes to mind (this was verified by Aster). In terms of modern horror films of a similar caliber, its overall quality is comparable to the brilliant Jordan Peele film Get Out. In terms of the gut-wrenching and disturbing violence, I’d compare it to High Tension. But the dreadful feeling I was left with for days afterward places Hereditary in a universe of its own.
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