Original Title: Hereditary
Year of Release: 2018
Genres: Horror; Drama
Director: Ari Aster
Writer: Ari Aster
Main Cast: Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Gabriel Byrne
Whenever a somewhat decent horror movie gets released, there are plenty of critics making bold statements that usually compare said film to one of the old-time classics (usually The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, and Night of the Living Dead). I tend to avoid these comparisons, for they often create unreal and unreachable expectations, leaving the mainstream audience disappointed and cheated. That being said, I have no problems in saying that Hereditary is among the finest horror films of the decade, up there with the likes of The Babadook, The VVitch, and The House of the Devil.
Hereditary follows the Graham family, who just recently lost the elderly matriarch. Her death is processed in different ways by the family members, with her daughter Annie (Toni Collette) and husband (Gabriel Byrne) feeling relieved of her disappearance, her grandson Peter (Alex Wolff) becoming more detached from his family, while her granddaughter Charlie (the young Milly Shapiro) is the one who feels the most saddened by her loss. However, grandma’s past and dark secrets start haunting the family, as creepier and more disturbing events start to happen.
What makes this film stand out from the majority of horror movies is how much focus is put on exploring the characters, making the first half of the picture an effective family drama that gets more and more disturbing the longer it goes on. Each of the main four actors does a fantastic job here, delivering some of the finest acting the genre has seen in a long time. Toni Collette is the obvious standout, giving a powerful portrayal of a broken woman who has suffered a lot in life due to her mother, and whose past actions still haven’t healed the wounds that she inflicted on her family. In this two hours, you will empathize with her, you will be scared with her, and you will be afraid of her: a true Academy-Award worthy performance. Her husband is played by veteran actor Gabriel Byrne, who, whilst having a smaller role, still gives a solid performance as a family man who is the most normal of the four, and who feels so out of place that he barely gets involved into the arguments that his wife and son start whenever possible. Alex Wolff is excellent, showing plenty of talent that (hopefully) won’t go to waste: his performance is fierce and relatable, a teenager who doesn’t fit in with his peers and who struggles in finding his place at home. But it is the young Molly Shapiro who impresses the most: at only 13 years old, she has already entered the pantheon of creepy children in horror films, playing a borderline-autistic girl with sick hobbies and a tendency to cluck.
The emotions that I felt while watching Hereditary I would call unparalleled: while it isn’t scary in a contemporary way (there are barely any jumpscares and no monsters or ghosts), the amount of dread that keeps building up the longer it goes on is insufferable, so much so that I often found myself having to take deep breaths for I started to feel the pressure of the tension on my chest. Most of the terror comes from seemingly normal things, but that in the context of the film become more and more disturbing: never has an entire audience jumped and screamed at the same time due to the simple sound of a clicking noise. The sound design and editing are among the most effective I have seen, constantly subverting expectations.
The film gets scarier and scarier as it goes along, and it culminates in one of the most intense climaxes of recent memory, but one that, for many people, has a final scene that feels unneeded, cheap, or confusing: I was in a theater where almost everyone was highly scared during the film, but, as soon as the credits started rolling, plenty of people giggled and laughed. It is most definitely an unusual ending, but not one that comes out of nowhere: I sadly got it spoiled by an allegedly non-spoiler review, but having all that info made the first part more engaging for there are plenty of clues right from the getgo that makes it apparent that there is something deeper going on. This is another one of the things that I love about this film: with more and more critics trying to find hidden meanings and metaphors where often there are none, it feels refreshing to have an ending that the writer/director himself says has to be taken literally. That is not to say that the film has to be analyzed only at face value, for there are many more themes lying underneath the surface, with the one that resonated with me the most being that of inheritance: it feels comfortable to feel like every one of us is able to shape our own destiny and future, but more often than not we become nothing more than the shadow of our parents, inheriting their flaws and cons. The more you try to differentiate yourself from them, the closer you resemble them. It is a very terrifying thought that is at the core of this film and in Annie’s personality, who hated her mother for how she shaped her daughter’s life and behavior, trying to avoid doing the same with her children yet scaring them more and more.
Overall, Hereditary is an outstanding achievement in the horror genre. With masterful camerawork, confident use of sound and music, and a great cast that delivers committed performances, this is easily the best horror film of 2018, and tied at number 1 with You Were Never Really Here. If you like slower paced horrors that focus more on story and characters than cheap scares, you are gonna love this one.
Visual Effects: 9
Violence & Gore: 9
Sex & Nudity: 3
Drugs & Profanity: 5
Intensity & Horror: 9