Hereditary is an unsettling supernatural drama that weaves the tale of one family’s dark history after the untimely death of the family matriarch. How well do you know your family? After you watch Ari Aster’s feature debut you too will be wondering what signs of a dark history are in your family. You will also have a newfound appreciation for EpiPens.
Full disclosure: Hereditary is a slow-burn. It perfectly aligns with the classic psychological horrors of the 1960s. This is where some horror fans might feel a bit cheated. Hereditary is advertised as one of the scariest movies of the year, and an instant classic with comparisons to some of the classic horror films that Aster is clearly influenced by. These praises are not wrong, but they might set up an expectation for a movie that is relentless with the scares. The last movie to successfully accomplish such a feat would be James Wan’s The Conjuring. Hereditary is more of a supernatural drama than your average horror movie these days. The goal is not to have the audiences scream consistently. It is instead a movie that slowly develops a story intended to unsettle and disturb audiences. The story is terrifying, the revelations are terrifying, and there is certainly a fair share of scenes that elicit a visceral response. It would be unwise of me to not make it clear that Hereditary is akin to its biggest inspiration, Rosemary’s Baby. It is not like modern-day horrors designed to just scare from beginning to end.
The movie opens with Annie (Toni Collette) and her family attending the funeral of Annie’s mother. What we learn is that Annie and her mother did not have a great relationship as Annie’s asks her husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), “Should I be sadder?”. We meet Annie’s seemingly ordinary suburban family, with one very strange and enigmatic daughter, Charlie (Milly Shapiro). Annie and Steve’s son, Peter (Alex Wolff), is your typical bored stoner kid from the suburbs. If you asked them they might describe themselves as a rather ordinary family, but it seems they are the only ones unaware of just how strange they are. Annie confesses at her mother’s funeral that her mother was involved in a private life that involved private friends and private rituals. From there on massive red flags are dropped so casually it’s almost comedic. It is the mundaneness of these people’s lives that make the revelations that much more devastating.
Aster assumes the dual role of director and screenwriter. He carefully lays out a scenario where it is conceivable that loss, tragedy, and the subsequent grief blinds these people from seeing the impending doom headed straight for them. Aster’s command over the camera and staging indicates there is a distinct vision he wants to achieve. Hereditary is definitely a movie that first-time directors should study to show that taking those bold and creative leaps could certainly pay off, but only if it aligns with every aspect of your movie. Aster not only asserts considerable control over his camera, he has a presence everywhere, from the cinematography,, score (oh, Colin Stetson’s score is truly brilliant), the set design, and the performances. Hereditary is a clear example of a distinct artistic voice, but it all hinges on Collette’s brilliant performance.
Without Collette‘s commanding presence throughout the movie, all might be well for Aster’s feature, but it will certainly not be as good. To say this is a career-defining role would be an insult to the longtime legend. If anything, this is a career reaffirming role. Collette’s performance is surprising and frightening. It is difficult to imagine any other actress in this role. Annie is a gift of a character because she is an extremely flawed and complicated individual up against the most insurmountable odds. Colette is able to create sympathy for a character that may not deserve it after she does what she does (you will know exactly what that is.) However, Collette brings such humanity and sympathy to Annie, crafting a complicated portrait of the terrifying effects of grief. A loss is bad, but the grief that follows is a whole different beast.
All things considered, Hereditary is the movie to see if you want to feel uneasy, upset, and most of all suspicious of seemingly nice old ladies. The most important takeaway is that EpiPens won’t just save your life or the life of a loved one, it could also save the world!