The Horror Of ‘Hereditary’ Hits Home Hard

by Ben Martin

Prestige horror films aren’t something we are treated to much these days. However, in the late 60s and throughout the early 1980s the horror genre attracted its fair share of A-list filmmakers and actors. Generally, these high-class horror pictures strove to do more than scare the audience. Sure, that was the primary goal; but these films also created atmospheres drenched in tension and designed in a highly artistic fashion. Moreover, these genre pieces also tend to make their audiences think. Classic examples of prestige horror pictures include: Rosemary’s Baby (1968), The Exorcist (1973), and The Shining (1980).

More recent examples of prestige horror are: Get Out (2017), The Witch (2015), and The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017). The latter two movies are low-budget productions, released by independent, art-house distributor A24 Films. Thus, it’s fitting that this distributor is also responsible for the recently released Hereditary. A film which is no doubt a prime example of high-class horror. Furthermore, the film in review is one I doubt most studios would touch with a twenty-foot pole.

Hereditary focuses on a family grieving the loss of their matriarch; with each member of the family processing the death in their own way. For Annie (Toni Collette), her mother’s death proves to be  psychologically and emotionally complicated. Though this isn’t surprising as their mother-daughter relationship was quite toxic. Meanwhile, Annie’s husband, Steve (Gabriel Byrne) and their teenage son, Peter (Alex Wolff) seem distanced from, if not relieved, by the loss. Then there’s youngest child, Charlie (Milly Shapiro), who had a close relationship with her late grandmother. Soon, supernatural occurrences begin, as it becomes apparent that Charlie still has a connection with her grandmother, even in death.

Now from that synopsis, Hereditary may not sound like anything new or original for the genre. However, I assure that you’ve not seen anything quite like this film before, and there are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, for a significant portion of its runtime, this picture is just as much a domestic drama as it is a horror picture. More to the point, the horrific aspects of this movie are born out of the domestic environment. Not only does the entire cast present as a realistic and dysfunctional family, they’re dealing with issues everyone has experienced on one level or another. You might identify with familial loss and the grief caused by it. Or, you may know the complexities of dysfunctional family relationships and the problems that aren’t talked about within them. One way or another, though, I guarantee you that the horror presented in Hereditary will hit home with you.

Of course, every aspect of this film works because of the vision of first-time feature film writer-director Ari Aster. Previously, Aster had matters of the familial nature in his short films. With Hereditary though, he uses such a narrative to the fullest extent of the horror genre. And to say Aster, cast, and crew so in the most artistic and emotionally tangible ways, possible would be an understatement. Everyone involved in this picture is at the absolute top of their trade.

Such expert craftsmanship results in a film that makes its viewer incredibly uncomfortable if not flat-out scared. The visual and audible construction of this movie alone will make you squirm in your seat. However, when combined with all other film craft and Aster’s screenplay and direction; Hereditary becomes a terrifying cinematic experience. One which I feel needs to be experienced in a theater. As a matter of fact, Hereditary is such an experience that I was disturbed to the point of being nauseous twenty minutes into it. Mind you, this feeling wasn’t due to violence and gore, either.  Much a like a virus, my discomfort grew as the film proceeded to its nerve-racking conclusion. By the time I exited into the relief of the well-lit theater lobby, I had thought I might need to vomit as Hereditary had made me so physically uncomfortable. Thankfully, I didn’t lose my lunch; but that nausea took hours to leave me after the fact.

Folks, I’ve seen many movies and a lot of horror films, in particular. Never in my life have I had a film make me feel the way this film did. That discomfort stayed with me for days. Furthermore, Hereditary has buried itself in my consciousness. While I don’t have anything negative to say about this film; I will say that it’s not for everyone. However, if you’re the least bit curious, I encourage you to see Hereditary in a theater! After all, don’t you want to be on the forefront of a movie sure to become a horror classic?


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