There is nothing more terrifying in this world than the fear of the unknown. Director and writer Ari Aster took this simple premise and evolved it into a master-class horror film. Hereditary explores the unsettling secrets of a family’s ancestry, set in motion by the death of a loved one. The camera work is in perfect form, the acting is wonderful, and the suspense will keep the entire theater on pins and needles. The film is only hampered by some loose story telling towards the end, but this is only a minor complaint. Aster succeeded in making the scariest film since 2015’s, The Witch, and quite possibly one of the most intense and thought-provoking horror films ever made.
The plot of Hereditary is difficult to talk about, as it is shrouded in mystery and family lore. The film opens up with Annie (Toni Collette) giving a eulogy at her mother’s funeral. You can almost feel a sense of relief in her words, as the weight of her mother is finally lifted. Annie is also a mother of two, Peter (Alex Wolff) and Charlie (Milly Shapiro). Her husband, Steve (Gabriel Byrne), acts as a soothing presence to the family, always available and emotionally stable. Peter seems like your typical teenager, more concerned about parties and girls than the family matters at hand. Charlie, on the other hand, is a bit shook from her first run in with death, as her grandmother took her under her wing. One eye-opening and oddly chilling scene has Charlie asking her mother, “Who will take care of me now?” As each family member deals with loss in their own way, both Charlie and Annie start to see apparitions of their departed family member. Annie denies what she is seeing, and Charlie embraces it, which sets the tone for the rest of this supernatural family thriller.
Hereditary is full of suspense, almost unbearably so. Aster is able to take everything that your typical “fluff” horror movie represents and turns it upside down. Almost mocking the genre, Aster uses the camera, lighting and tone to scare the audience, leaving the loud noises and jump scares to the next installment of, The Purge. From the opening shot of this film, the audience is treated to top level direction and cinematography. Paul Pogorzelski, the films cinematographer, deserves his share of the praise, as he helped created this horrifyingly beautiful setting. It is almost as if the audience is given this world to explore for a couple hours, offering reflection on what makes us so fearful, while watching this tragedy play out.
Each character in Hereditary acts as a piece to the convoluted puzzle, so it helps that the acting was top-notch. Toni Collette definitely stands out, as her performance deserves an Oscar nomination. Her grief, paranoia and pain drive this film, and it was impressive to watch. Milly Shapiro also steals the show; her creepy take on Charlie is very unsettling, as she sets the tone of the film very early on. Hereditary explores conditions such as schizophrenia and mental instability in a way that has never been done before, and the cast handles this with class. These themes become so real, that it is truly bone chilling.
Aster’s film will have you thinking about it long after your walk out of theater. Acting as a metaphor for mental health issues, the themes are terrifying and important. Hereditary is a movie that you will want to watch again, immediately after the credits roll. Each layer that gets peeled back reveals more to the story, but it will take multiple viewings to get to the core. Despite some over-the-top weirdness at the end, Hereditary is the perfect horror film. Disturbing, unsettling and terrifying, this movie is definitely not for the faint of heart.