Hereditary (2018) Movie Review - Ari Aster's Modern Classic

Horror, Supernatural, Drama | 127 Min
  • Director: Ari Aster
  • Actors: Toni Colette, Alex Wolff, Gabriel Byrne, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd
  • Writers: Ari Aster
  • Producers: Kevin Frakes, Lars Knudsen, Buddy Patrick
  • Country: United States
  • Language: English, Spanish
  • Parental: Graphic Nudity, Violence, Gore, Self Harm, Language, Drug Use
  • Horror, Supernatural, Drama | 127 Min

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 brilliant 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. 

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.

Hereditary (2018) Review

Charlie is tremendously hurt by the loss of her grandmother.

Annie begins to believe that there is a deeper mystery surrounded the death of her mother. But, before she can begin to investigate, her life will be torn apart once again by another tragedy. A tragedy that will send the family down a spiral of strange happenings that threatens to tear them all apart. 

Family Horror

Hereditary is a psychological horror that aims to get inside your head by blurring the lines between the feasible and the absurd. Starting off as a slow paced family drama, the situations the family find themselves in are, sadly, relatable and happen to people all the time. As the tragedies and consequences grow more intense. Annie’s mental health begins to suffer and she starts to lose her grip on both the people around her and her sanity. Everything that happens here is believable. 

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 nightmare. A shocking ending that comes out of nowhere reminds you that, despite how grounded in reality the events were and how believable everything is. 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. This is slow burn horror at its finest.

Hereditary (2018) Review

There are lots of things to look out for in the background of shots.

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. 

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.

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.

Hereditary (2018) Review

I was really happy to see Ann Dowd playing Joyce – a great actor

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. It would be remiss of me to not point out that the ending may not be for everyone. The whiplash is real after the slow paced familial drama that comes before it. But it is a daring decision that pays off big time for fans of traditional horror movies.

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.

Fantastic Acting

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.

Hereditary (2018) Review

Toni Colette must have been exhausted by the time filming wrapped.

I actually think Alex Wolff as Peter deserves special mention. His performance, for me, stood out above the others, even Colette. He reflects a huge 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.

Should You Watch Hereditary?

This one is an obvious yes, you should definitely watch Hereditary. It is a modern horror classic and one of the most critically acclaimed horror movies in years. Aster does tons right, the acting is fantastic, the story compelling and the ending intense. It isn’t one of my personal favourites but I can see what a hugely important movie it is. Hereditary elevated horror and for that it deserves significant praise.

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