The camera is the entity in Hereditary that you connect to the most, as it draws you in and pulls you away from scenes at such a deliberate pace that you wonder just how many secrets it’s hiding.
Writer-director Ari Aster brings to the screen one of the best of the genre without lingering on many shadows in the corner for half of the movie. While it does play with common tropes of the genre, it lulls you into those moments rather than throwing them at your face.
Ideally, you need two things before you decide to watch Hereditary- an acceptance of perplexing absurdity and a need for horror that goes beyond jump scares for a weekend distraction. The movie tackles the psyche as much as it does the senses. It doesn’t build its true horror on myths and curses, but rather its most horrifying aspects come from the fragility of familial relationships. Once a family starts to unravel, no one can save it from its own destructive forces.
When Annie Graham (Toni Collette), a miniaturist artist loses her mother, she is caught between a sense of guilt for not being too saddened by it and a sense of being blamed (for what, even she doesn’t know). Annie lives with her husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), their teenage son Peter (Alex Wolff), and their 13-year-old daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro). Shapiro does an amazing job of bringing to life a character that seems unhinged, affected more by her grandma’s death by anyone and isolated from the rest as she spends hours on her makeshift toys.
When things start to go wrong, the movie refuses to make it easy to understand them. When Joan (Ann Dowd) arrives to help Anne deal with a family that was falling apart, you wonder how sensible her advice is. The more the dynamics within the family are explained, the more you wonder if there was ever any saving them.
The movie opens with the eulogy where Annie laments how her “secretive” mother was, by no means, a good parent. The rest of the movie keeps hinting at those secrets to the audience without the distraught characters picking up on them until it’s too late. For so much of her time on screen, Annie is building her models with painstaking detail, carving out details and figures that seem more scary than the plot without ever being a part of it. They are just there, much like us, to witness the family falling apart.
Horror has long turned the word “mommy” into its most sinister element. This movie relishes in that embedded impact on its audience. The background score and sound design are unnerving, and even after you walk out, one particular sound will make you jump for a while.
The movie remains somber and edgy but it pulls out too many nervous giggles. As the scene moves or shifts abruptly from night to day to back, you can feel your entire body tingle in anticipation. You might not get jolted out of your seats, but there is no denying the lingering impact. You can go for the drama, you can go for the scares and you can go for the amazing acting and direction. If you’re a horror buff, the climatic scene will remind you just why the genre is so close to your heart.