by Hogan Short
This year’s Sundance horror hit, Hereditary, is the directorial debut of Ari Aster. Audiences have been waiting to see this new so-called instant horror classic ever since its premiere, which still boasts a perfect Rotten Tomatoes score of 100 per cent. Like any movie with enormous buzz around it, approach with optimism but prepare to be legitimately scared. And don’t be surprised if you leave the theatre drenched in a cold sweat, exhausted from a racing heart, and sore from sitting tense for two hours straight. Hereditary is a perfectly crafted nightmare and honestly one of the scariest movies to be made in recent history.
The Graham family is coping with a death in the family. Annie’s (Toni Collette) mother has just died. Her husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) rounds up their two kids, Peter and Charlie (Alex Wolff and Milly Shapiro), for the funeral. Charlie seems to be taking the death very hard and Peter doesn’t seem to mind at all. Strange things begin to happen all around the Graham family — Annie is seeing images of her recently deceased mother, Charlie has mutilated a dead bird and carries the head with her. The film begins as an unsettling psychological horror before completely becoming a fully unhinged, inescapable horror masterpiece.
Hereditary quickly takes a very unexpected route when a tragic accident changes the family forever. This effect on the family causes Annie to reveal deeply sinister thoughts about her son Peter and forces him into choking fits and hallucinations. It’s not clear whether this is in all of their heads or a sinister force out of their control, but every creepy moment is also a breadcrumb of information to remember when we are mercilessly subjected to the incredibly satisfying ending.
The story is jarring as it twists and turns through this terror yet always remains rooted in family. Gabriel Byrne is the soft-spoken father who struggles to make sense of the horrifying reality he knows cannot be real. Every decision makes perfect sense and gives the plot that needed authenticity. Milly Shapiro is as unsettling as all hell. Alex Wolff’s Peter shows us one of the most intriguing and heartbreaking transitions ever seen on screen. Collette remains the centre of the story, delivering a destructively fragile performance as a mother going through unimaginable grief.
The scenes are often very long, allowing every moment to linger on its fear. Scenes will slowly pan awkwardly from jarring angles, the camera slowly zooming in and out constantly. There are very little jump scares, only edge of your seat, crushing your rib cage with your own arms, holding your breath kind of fear. This movie grips you with these directorial decisions and forces you to stay there with a dread inducing score. Hereditary quietly sets everything up piece by piece and we don’t even know it when things start happening because we are already way too afraid. Once we realize how interesting and unique this horror movie is, it’s too late. The final act has a series of scenes that people will be talking about forever. Quite easily the scariest ten minutes you’ll ever experience in a movie theatre.
Hereditary is an unbelievably scary movie about family resentment and grief. The themes of the film are scary enough but it feels relentless when matched with this kind of deliberate pacing, bone chilling sound design, and imagery that will make your skin crawl. Hereditary doesn’t just try to make you afraid of the dark. You will be afraid sitting at family dinner.
Hereditary opens with a limited release on June 8.