Making horror only gets more and more difficult as the styles derive from one another. In the case of Hereditary, they take from a couple of classics while making it their very own. The result makes it a modern horror classic on par with The Babadook and The VVitch.
The film follows the Graham family, led by passe father Steve (Gabriel Byrne) and hard working mother Annie (Toni Collette) as they prepare for her own mother’s funeral. Annie immediately notes during the eulogy that a bunch of strange faces have shown up for the event.
Their kids, teenage stoner Peter (Alex Wolff) and his odd sister, Charlie (Milly Shapiro), are affected by the funeral differently. Peter wants to move on, but Charlie, who the grandmother was obsessed with, is feeling the complete opposite way. As Annie tries to move on herself, she goes to group therapy where she meets Joan (Ann Dowd), who gives her both a shoulder to cry on and a different way to deal with her grief.
This gives you first 30 minutes or so of the movie, and anything more than that ruins the rest of the film. No, seriously. You don’t want the final three-quarters of this movie to be revealed to you in any way. It only gets more and more complicated from here.
Many reviews reference the fact about how scary the movie is, and while the film is terrifying at times, the tension that it creates is on a level that isn’t seen in even the best thrillers. Multiple times while watching it, I caught myself not breathing and ensuring that whatever crept in the night didn’t hear me. There were rarely, if ever, any shrieks of terror during my showing, as exasperated gasps and loud sighs in relief were more the norm.
In his feature-length debut, director Ari Aster uses time, space, and sound in such a way that only makes the movie more terrifying. He mixes in all of the standbys for horror movies, but allows for them to take on new life. It helps that he has strong actors like Collette, Wolff, and Shapiro starring in the film.
Collette is especially enthralling as the high-strung mother. She is a blank canvas until you need her to be anything else and in the very moment you need her to express herself, she is pitch perfect. Her acting has been recognized, yet this still puts her on another level. She oscillates between emotions like a pendulum, and you’re none the wiser that she is performing.
Wolff is fantastic as the bystander in most of the terror that surrounds him. His physical performance will stick with you well past the end of the movie. You can sense the terror in every one of his movements.
While Shapiro won’t be forgotten for her stoic portrayal as Charlie, her performance is a tad more one note. However, that note is hit so well that her mystic presence only adds more weight to the movie and her role.
The slow burn of the movie may turn off many and could leave a lot of people leaving the theater distressed with their movie choice. For those looking to be “change your pants” scared, it may not meet that expectation. Hereditary knows precisely what it is while also changing the tenor of the film at the flip of a switch. It fits into multiple boxes and doesn’t conform to one in any moment of the film. That is why it is so compelling: you’re dragged along for every step of it and are enthralled for the entire ride. Make sure to catch your breath along the way.