Hereditary – Review
A grieving family is haunted by tragic and disturbing occurrences.
It’s day 21 of our K-O-Ween 31 Days of Halloween feature. Today we are taking a look at Ari Aster’s 2018 mega hit Hereditary. Hereditary is a supernatural horror with a strong emphasis on family drama and a respectful nod to classics like Rosemary’s Baby. Slow and methodically paced, this isn’t a movie for everyone but it is beloved by the horror community.
Hereditary was insanely successful and critically lauded back when it released. Winning a mountain of awards and incredible praise for its director and cast; some even called it the best horror movie of all time. I, personally, am not of that opinion. I am not about to say that the praise was unwarranted. Hereditary is a very good horror movie. I just don’t enjoy it in the same way that many other people do. With that being said, let’s take a look. As always, I will give a quick breakdown of the movie so feel free to skip that if you like.
We have been reviewing a horror movie a day for the entirety of October 2022 leading up to Halloween. I intended these reviews to be a bit of a shorter format but it kind of didn’t work out that way. Still, we have plenty left with ten days of October remaining so keep checking back. We are featuring a range of movies from horror classics to international hits and a few indie darlings. You can check out the entire K-O-Ween feature by clicking right here.
Hereditary – Synopsis
Hereditary follows the story of Annie Graham, played by Toni Colette, and her family as they battle grief and disfunction. The movie starts with the death of Annie’s mother. Her mother was a long time sufferer of DID (dissociative identity disorder) but had recently been struggling with dementia. Despite her mother seemingly not having many connections, Annie is shocked to see a large turnout at her funeral.
It becomes apparent that the family has mixed feelings regarding Annie’s mother’s death. Annie’s son Peter, played by Alex Wolff, seems fairly unaffected. He appears to be distracted in school and more interested in taking drugs with friends. Annie’s daughter Charlie, played by Milly Shapiro, however, is very upset. Annie’s mother was very close with Charlie and she is distraught at her death. Annie, while turning the lights off in the various rooms of the house, thinks she sees her mother standing in the corner.
Annie’s psychiatrist husband Steve, played by Gabriel Byrne, receives a phone call informing him that Annie’s mother’s grave has been desecrated. He chooses not to tell Annie to avoid upsetting her. Annie heads off to a bereavement support group under the guise of watching a movie. While there she explains that she had a difficult relationship with her mother which became somewhat better recently. After the birth of her youngest daughter, Charlie, Annie’s mother had become heavily involved with her care.
An Unexpected Turn – Synopsis Cont.
A little later, Charlie is drawing in her bedroom. A strange light appears on the wall and seemingly exits out of the window. Charlie heads outside and walks to the bottom of the garden. Looking out to the treeline, Charlie sees what looks to be her deceased grandmother kneeling on the ground with fire either side of her. Annie, who has a tendency to worry too much about Charlie, chastises her for being outside without shoes or a coat. She marches Charlie back inside and tells Peter, who is about to head to a party, to take Charlie with him.
On the way to the party, Peter and Charlie drive past a telephone pole that appears to have some type of marking, or sigil, engraved on it. Arriving at the party, Peter notices a girl that he is attracted to. He tells her that he has brought drugs with him and asks her if she had anywhere they could go.
Charlie, upset at being in a place full of strangers, asks to go with them. Peter tells her to stay downstairs and eat some of the cake. Charlie eats some cake and, after a short while, enters the room where Peter is hanging out. She tells him she can’t breathe. Apparently this girl has a massive nut allergy and doesn’t carry an EpiPen. She is going into anaphylactic shock so Peter gets her into the car and speeds off. This sets off a chain of events that no one in the family could possibly have imagine.
Hereditary is a psychological horror that aims to get inside your head and wreak havoc on your mind. Starting off as a slow paced family drama, the situations the family find themselves in grow more intense. Featuring an element of social horror, the movie puts the entire Graham family through hell. Things continue to escalate as Annie’s mental health appears to unwind. She is torn apart by what is happening in her life and the family around her begin to question her sanity. Indeed, the suggestion of mental illness is there throughout Annie’s slow mental decline.
Just when you think you know what you are dealing with, Aster whips the rug out from underneath you and leaves you flat on your back staring up at a full blown horror. A shocking ending that comes out of nowhere reminds you that you are actually watching a horror movie. It’s brutally effective and one of my favourite horror movie endings of the past few years. It takes awhile to get there but the pacing of Hereditary is very deliberate.
Another Slow Burn Horror
We have reviewed a fair few slow burn horror movies on Knockout Horror. We have covered a few for our K-O-Ween feature as well including The Witch, Lake Mungo and The Autopsy of Jane Doe. Slow burn horror works counter to the more common jump scare horror in that it demands attention from the viewer. There is no instant gratification here. Hereditary might be one of the most fitting examples of the slow burn method. Glacial in its progression, it is a considered and purposeful pace designed to fray the viewer’s nerves.
A Disturbed Family
Dealing with the loss of a parent is something most people will go through. Annie and her mother had a complicated relationship and it would appear they did not know each other particularly well. This gives way to something fairly common with family bereavements, the uncovering of secrets. Hereditary works in a sort of suspenseful mystery sense in that you are witnessing Annie slowly uncovering the truth about her family. These revelations lead to her suffering a mental decline and cause turmoil within her own family.
The secrets, however, unveil fairly slowly. Nothing is rushed here and there is no eagerness to get to the meat of the story. Luckily we are treated to a number of shocking situations and some unexpected scenes that keep the movie flowing fairly well. Horror fans are a notoriously antsy bunch. Many of us get bored when there is too much plot and not enough scares. Hereditary has the potential to trigger this in some viewers. I honestly believe, however, that there are enough disturbing events occurring to keep horror fans interested, for the most part.
Aster predominantly wants you to become invested in the struggles of the family and works hard to drag that out of the viewer. Does it pay off? I think most people would say it does. I do think, however, that some of the events lack cohesion. An argument could be made that the movie wastes fair bit of time on scenes that maybe have no bearing on the overall plot. Aside from these minor niggles, as far as slow burn horror goes, the pacing feels okay.
A Fairly Shocking Movie
Much like Ari Aster’s follow up hit Midsommar, Hereditary can be a fairly disturbing watch. Dealing with themes of grief, familial control, mental decline, and tragedy; the story itself is pretty harrowing. Some of the scenes, however, are truly shocking. There is obviously one in particular that is talked about frequently that definitely stands out. It is a genuinely gruesome scene that is set up perfectly to shock the viewer.
There are other scenes, however, that are shocking in a different way. Everyone in the family is impacted by the events occurring and they all react differently. Peter, in particular, suffers greatly from everything that happens and goes through some serious shit. As the movie reaches its climax things only get worse leading up to an ending that will likely divide viewers.
An Intense Ending
For a movie that crawls along at a snail’s pace, the ending explodes pretty much out of nowhere. The family drama is replaced with a full on horror movie complete with some horribly graphic violence and a stark commitment to scaring the viewer. I believe it genuinely succeeds at this. My partner and I frequently reference Hereditary when we talk about horror movies that made us say “Oh shit!!”. There are a couple of parts of the ending that are incredibly effective. Re-watching the movie for this review, our reactions were pretty much the same.
A big part of the reason that these scenes are so impactful is the fact that they are so unexpected. Hereditary was so methodical in its pacing and so content with being a family drama that these scenes feel like they come out of nowhere. There are parts that really make you wince and you could never have imagined that when you are at the halfway mark of the film. It works really well and leaves you legitimately shocked at what you just witnessed. The movie culminates in something extremely reminiscent of Rosemary’s Baby and the viewer is left to clean up the mental mess left in their skulls.
A Potentially Divisive Ending
It has to be said, however, that many people will likely not enjoy the ending. The shift from what you have grown used to watching to flat out horror will probably throw some people off. This is a movie that has focused so heavily on the issues within the family that you are almost positive that you are watching a drama. When the horror element kicks in it is almost a surprise. The final ten minutes or so are dramatically different to what we have been watching for nearly two hours.
Something else worth mentioning is that there are a few parts of the final ten minutes that look a little silly. The visuals, for the most part, are incredibly striking. There are parts of the ending that are going to stay with you for years. A few things, however, look a little farcical and might make you laugh rather than turn away in fear.
Although I really enjoyed the ending of Hereditary, I think some people will feel as though the movie copped out a little and didn’t offer the big pay off to its slow, lingering, plot. In my opinion the ending is the highlight of the entire film but I completely understand why some might disagree with that sentiment.
A Unique Style
There is a style to Hereditary that appears to be fairly unique. Unusual filming techniques are used throughout. There are scenes featuring camera shots moving with an object in spite of the scenery around them. A coffin being lowered into the ground with the camera moving in unison, for example. Cameras placed right behind characters to the point where they bump into them. Shots zooming in rapidly to objects and a handheld feeling that seems to feature throughout.
Ari Aster’s unique approach has proven to be very popular. I, personally, am not a particularly big fan of it. I found the camera work to be rather boring when these little camera flairs weren’t applied. The various camera tricks themselves didn’t really grab me and I was not a fan of some of the ways Aster cues you in to what is going on. There is a repeated audio track that plays during certain strange and unexplainable events. There are times where it feels as though this is kicking in every ten seconds like getting into an encounter in a video game. For lack of a better word I found it somewhat boring. I know many people love this style and I can understand why. As I said before, it’s just my personal opinion.
An Interesting Set Design
The set for the house was built on a sound stage enabling the movie to be filmed from a side on perspective. Annie is a miniature artist and it seems Aster wanted to film Hereditary so it reflected that. It’s as if you are looking at the characters in the same way you would look at characters in the inside of a miniature house. It is very unique and stands out for how strange it is. The technique isn’t overused, either. Despite not being overly enamoured with Aster’s filming style I enjoyed this and it offers a really nice opportunity for unique shots.
It is worth keeping your eyes peeled throughout Hereditary. There is a lot of background stuff going on that can really enrich the plot. People appear hidden in the scenery, sigils are scattered throughout the environments and there are hints as to what is going on in many of the scenes. I am a big fan of stuff like this and it lends itself well to repeated viewings.
The cast of Hereditary is fantastic throughout. I know people have given special mention to Toni Colette as Annie. While I do agree that her performance is great, I think the people claiming she was snubbed for an Oscar are, perhaps, stretching things a little. It’s a great performance as far as horror movie standards go but it is also somewhat lacking in character nuance. Colette turns everything up to 10 which can get a little tiring after awhile.
I actually think Alex Wolff as Peter deserves special mention. His performance, for me, stood out above the others. He reflects a range of emotions incredibly well and is at his best when conveying the trauma Peter goes through. There are a few scenes in particular that really stand out for how distraught he looks.
Side characters are all great. I really enjoyed seeing Ann Dowd as Joan. I think she is a hugely underrated actor and she is brilliant here. It’s cool to see Gabriel Byrne as well.
Worth the Hype?
Hereditary is a hugely hyped up movie. People rave about it and it is genuinely loved by the horror community. It also, for some reason, seems to provoke a strange type of aggression from certain fans. I have seen so many people criticise others who don’t like it and accuse them of being too stupid to get it. This is always a really sad thing to see. Horror is such a broad genre and there is no need for this kind of aggression. People like what they like, be it jump scare horror or slow burn psychological horror. There is no need to criticise people for what they enjoy.
I, personally, am a big fan of slow burn horror. Despite this, I am not a huge fan of Hereditary. I enjoyed the second half of it and absolutely do recommend it. For whatever reason, it just didn’t work for me as well as it did for others. I don’t find it boring but I do find the story to be somewhat uninteresting. It’s a plot that has been done before and I never really cared that much about the secrets Annie’s mum had kept. I felt the story was somewhat predictable and I don’t really enjoy Ari Aster’s directing style. Funnily enough, I actually felt much the same about Midsommar and you can check out that review by clicking the link.
A Significant Modern Horror
I do believe Hereditary is worth the hype, however. There aren’t many movies like Hereditary anymore and it really harks back to a time when horror was made to get into your head. It is extremely reminiscent of movies like The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby which is nice to see from such a recent movie. Acting is great and the ending is truly shocking. I really like Hereditary, it’s just not a movie that I, personally, love. I do think a lot of horror fans will love it, though, and I do recommend it.
Is it a Knockout?
Hereditary is a hugely successful, award winning, psychological horror movie that is beloved by the horror community. Slow paced but with an intense plot focused on grief and family turmoil, fans of slow burn horror should find plenty to love. Owing a lot to The Wicker Man and Rosemary's Baby, Hereditary harkens back to horror of old with a well developed story that aims to get in your head and stay there.
Stand out performances from Alex Wolff and Toni Colette keep you gripped to the events on screen. The ending comes at your like a freight train and doesn't relent until the credits roll. While not particularly scary, there are a few extremely shocking scenes and the final 10 minutes are some of the most impactful in recent horror.
The glacial pace may put a few people off and the story may not be compelling enough to keep fans of faster paced horror invested. I found Ari Aster's directional style a little offputting but plenty of people really enjoy it. Hereditary is a slow and considered horror that likely deserves the hype. While I am not in love with the movie, as a whole, I do believe it is a fantastic movie that all horror fans should check out. It just didn't quite do it for me in the way it did for others.