Hereditary is a special kind of horror film where the audio alone is an accomplice to the terrifying suspense taking place on-screen.
The well-thought out and horrifyingly executed tension throughout the supernatural horror film will leave you, as well as everyone sitting around you, collectively attempting to cover up the cold sweats that shiver down your spine and the relentless precipitation that drips down your palms as you reach for the cool condensation dripping down the large fountain drink located in the drink holder that seems further away than it really is.
Every tongue click that echoes through the speakers and every scribble behind a sketch in that cursed notebook that seems to surround your senses, Hereditary offers a palpable atmosphere which caters to paying full price for with a horrific odyssey that is only amplified by a giant screen and surround sound.
The film opens with an obituary for Ellen Taper Leigh followed by Ellen’s funeral. Her daughter, Annie (Toni Collette), is trying to deal with the fact that she isn’t fazed by her mother’s death. Annie is a miniaturist artist and has a showing coming up. Annie’s daughter, Charlie (Milly Shapiro), was closest to her grandmother and seems to be the only one who misses her. Annie’s son, Peter (Alex Wolff, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), is more concerned about getting high and partying with his high school friends. Meanwhile, Annie’s husband, Steve (Gabriel Byrne, The Usual Suspects), is the stable one of the family. There’s a sickness that is genetic on Annie’s side of the family and Steve is just trying to make this difficult transition as smooth as possible for his wife and kids.
Charlie clicks her tongue habitually, sketches constantly, has a sweet tooth for chocolate despite having a nut allergy, has mastered the serial killer stare, and fidgets often. She begins to see things and behave even stranger than usual after her grandmother’s death. Annie reluctantly begins group therapy and meets an unusual woman named Joan (Ann Dowd, The Handmaid’s Tale). They bond over the loved ones they’ve lost, but Joan introduces Annie to how her grief can instantly turn to happiness with a do-it-yourself séance that she can perform at home. Annie falls for it and naturally makes an already vulnerable time for her family unbearable to the extent that it’s life threatening.
Hereditary is the feature film writing and directing debut of Ari Aster and the acting debut of Milly Shapiro. A film this strong for a first time actor, screenplay writer, and director is somewhere in the realm of unbelievable yet here we are. Naturally, Hereditary is the type of film that is more fun to piece together without knowing much going into it and this review will be as spoiler-free as possible. Annie’s miniature profession allows for some incredibly slick transitions between what’s presently occurring and its tiny doppelganger. Annie’s attention to detail becomes unsettling and disheartening. If you’ve ever poured your heart and hours of labor into any sort of art then Annie’s strained relationship with her work is both understandable and sickening since you’re instantly sympathetic in how she feels towards her work.
Tension is Hereditary’s biggest asset. The stalking camera and the throbbing strings that pluck away at your on-edge nerves that make up the score are also key elements, but the method in which tension snowballs throughout the film is too masterful not to recognize. The performances are also fantastic. Toni Collette has these layers to her complex performance as Annie. She begins as a caring mother figure, but is destroyed from the inside out over the course of the film. She seems to lose it in the film and is either pushing the brink of insanity or has ideas that are just crazy enough to work. Collette captures terror with inhuman facial expressions in ways no one else can. Her scream alone pierces your heart and scares you senseless at the same time.
The evolution of Peter as a character is also brilliantly unnerving. To put matters to rest right now, the Leigh/Graham family goes through the worst kind of shit any family could possibly go through and Annie and Peter are the ones who endure that shit the longest. Peter has to deal with guilt, blame, and inexplicable supernatural occurrences that would drive anyone insane. Alex Wolff’s performance is just as complex as Toni Collette’s, but it’s portrayed in a different kind of way. Peter is slightly numb at first, then grief stricken, and then entirely overwhelmed with what he’s experienced. Wolff’s performance starts off as a simple high school student with basic desires, but his existence is eventually only driven by terror and his only want in the world is forgiveness. You feel sorry for him, but everything that happens to this family is essentially their own doing.
It’s difficult to discuss the ending without giving anything away, but it’s certainly worth bringing up. Two of the producers of Hereditary, Beau Ferris and Lars Knudsen, were the first assistant director and a producer for another A24 title, The Witch. The ending to Hereditary makes the ending to The Witch seem tame and common in comparison. In its first hour, one of the aspects that make Hereditary so scary is that it’s fairly realistic. Once it takes a turn into more supernatural territory, the film kind of teases dipping its toe in unfamiliar waters before pulling a complete 180 and dunks its head in before its feet. Hereditary goes completely bat shit crazy in its second half and it never looks back. That second half is where the comparisons to The Exorcist come into play and for good reason. The strange and impossible becomes ordinary and the grotesque is as common as apple pie in Hereditary.
If anyone was going to shit their pants while seeing a film for the first time due to it being so scary, Hereditary is the only logical film that kind of reaction would not only be tolerated but expected. You’re left with a lot of questions after seeing the film, but you’re also left wanting to see it again from merely explaining the film to someone who hasn’t seen it. This is the horror film genre fans get excited about. Hereditary has a lot of positive hype because it will scare you shitless without remorse. This film is a screamish plunge into nightmarish insanity. It is absolutely bizarre at times, spine tingling at others, and loaded with bonkers ass terror in between. Hereditary won’t be for everyone, but it will absolutely crush every expectation for those who crave atmospheric horror. 4.5/5 Ant-Infested, Roasted, and Decapitated Bibles.