Hereditary ranks as one of, if not the most disturbing films ever made; the film is filled with haunting imagery and gut wrenching visuals that evoke real horror, as even the most eccentric scares are based in real emotions. The film is a haunting portrayal of guilt, loss, grief, and familial anxieties, evoking a very personal nightmare within its audience. Perhaps that alone is a quality to praise, but the overall film is perfectly paced, with slow burn moments leading to its climactic scares and gradual revelations leading to terrifying truths.
The film follows the Gragham family; Annie (Toni Collette) and Steve (Gabriel Byrne) struggle to connect to their children Peter (Alex Wolff) and Charlie (Milly Shapiro) in the wake of tragedy, and attempt to cope with unspeakable loss when a deeper evil surfaces within their households. While the film’s scares are striking, much of the deeply disturbing moments are anchored by scenes of family interactions, and the excellent cast sells these scenes. Toni Collette in particular is haunting and powerful as a mother at her wits end who feels cursed by the consistent tragedy (and delivers the film’s most effective monologue), and Alex Wolff is remarkable as a teenager who’s awakened from his self-centric world and thrust into the darkness of his family history; I will be disappointed if both don’t receive Oscar nominations come next year.
This is a striking debut from Ari Aster, who is able to give each scene a nightmarish quality, and uses the methodical miniature houses created by the Gragham family to shape his environments. While the first section of the film could easily be interpreted as “boring” or “slow” by a less attuned audience, it sets up the dynamics of the family perfectly, leading to the most white-knuckle and terrifying sequence I’ve possibly ever seen (which just so happens to feature no demons or possession), and from then on delivers on the maximum potential of how such an event could shape the darkest aspects of our minds.
I struggle with grading a film like Hereditary; on one hand, I’d like to give it an A+, because as a film its pretty much flawless, and I honestly can’t think of another film that has truly scared me to this degree. That being said, the film got under my skin to the point that I almost regret seeing it, because the psychological journey of entering these characters’ minds was traumatic on a level that I simply didn’t want to see in a film. It’s undoubtably a masterpiece of the genre, one that is uncompromising and unflinching, but I think its up to the viewer if they can handle the haunting plane of existence that Hereditary occupies. Grade: A