Hot Take: The scariest horror film since 2016’s The Witch. One that might cause you to lose sleep. At 2-plus hours, Hereditary is frightening from the very beginning to the absolutely batshit crazy end. That’s a rare feat indeed.
It’s been a few days since seeing Hereditary and I still can’t quite shake it. There’s an aspect of the film that isn’t horror at all. Within one of the scariest, most horrific movies I’ve seen is a tragic look at a suffering family in inexplicable collapse. First time writer/director Ari Aster’s debut leaves an auspicious, creepy, unnerving impression. It has a vicious slow burn quality that until it hits its stride is basically a family drama. There’s plenty of freakiness going on. Whether it be Annie’s miniatures or Charlie’s clucking sound, there’s an ominous feel to the family drama which opens at grandma’s funeral but it feels like a family drama nonetheless. Once it does it its stride, Hereditary becomes one of the most horrific tales in recent memory and leaves an indelible impression on you that you might not forget for some time. I sure haven’t.
***MINOR SPOILER ALERT*** (Usually, there are none but in this case, there are some minor reveals below. Skip the following paragraph if you’re looking for no spoilers at all.)
Annie (Toni Collette) has just lost her mother with whom she had a strained relationship. Her husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) is doing his best to be there for her and their two children — their teenage son Peter (Alex Wolff) and 13-year-old daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro). Peter spends his days smoking weed and checking out girls while Charlie has taken to drawing strange pictures and even cuts the head off of a dead bird she found outside of school. One night, Peter asks to go to a party which Annie allows under the condition of taking his sister with him. At the party, Charlie eats a piece of chocolate cake containing nuts and goes into anaphylactic shock. While driving her to the hospital, Peter doesn’t realize Charlie has rolled down the window to stick her head out to breathe and she’s decapitated by a telephone pole on the side of the road. Stricken with grief, Annie and Peter’s relationship is more strained than ever and Annie attempts to return to a grief support group where she’s befriended by Joan (Ann Dowd) who convinces Annie that she can talk to Charlie again through seance. As the family unravels, Annie becomes more obsessed with the idea of communicating with Charlie and the surviving members of the family are at a loss in how to deal with Annie as she becomes more and more distant.
It’s tough to give a synopsis of Hereditary without a minor spoiler. Beyond the film itself which has a morbidly compelling script and is filled with excellent performances, director Ari Aster has made a technical masterpiece with a slow burn very similar to 2016’s The Witch. Hereditary was shot on a sound stage which allowed Aster to film scenes in the house at a distance and pan through walls to move from room to room creating a dollhouse aesthetic and adds to the ominous tone. Once you digest the entire film, if you have the stones to do it, there’s a plot to dissect that reveals more than what’s on the surface upon first glimpse. Aster has crafted something both beautiful and horrific at the same time. It’s yet another selection by A24 that proves they might be the most consistent and reliable studio in Hollywood. While some might find the number of people lauding Hereditary as one of the best horror movies in recent memory (or ever, in some commentaries) to seem more hyperbolic, it’s not far off. It’s definitely fair to consider it a modern classic.
While I ranked A Quiet Place higher than Hereditary on my Top Movies of 2018 list and both are horror films, I’d consider Hereditary a better horror film. The reason A Quiet Place is higher than Hereditary on the list is it was just a more enjoyable watch. I can’t ever imagine myself watching Hereditary again. I want to. I just don’t think I can.
You’ve heard all the buzz and now need to see it for yourself.
You value sleep.