While it’s true that almost every movie that has ever been released benefits from going in as blind as possible—let the movie speak for itself; don’t let the marketing/audience reaction speak for it and potentially taint your opinion of it before you even get the chance to see it—there are some movies for which this sentiment really holds true. Hereditary, the feature directorial debut for Ari Aster, is one such movie.
As such, I’ll only reveal to you the basic setup. Annie (Toni Collette) is an artist who creates miniature versions of rooms and people. She’s married to Steve (Gabriel Byrne) and together the couple has two children, Peter (Alex Wolff) and Charlie (Milly Shapiro). Annie’s mother, a mysterious woman from whom Annie was on-and-off estranged, recently died after a battle with an illness. Things start getting weird after the family returns home from the funeral. And by weird, I mean scary, shocking, and, on occasion, simply weird.
To say more would be to ruin the fun. Hereditary is a horror movie, but it functions well as a drama with a heavy sense of atmosphere and a mystery about what exactly is going on with this family. The horror scenes come, although the film takes its time to really get going. It slowly builds atmosphere, throwing in a shock or reveal here and there, before unleashing the beast, so to speak. I mean that in a completely metaphorical sense, by the way. I’m not the It Comes at Night marketing machine, which hinted at something more than there actually was.
Hereditary does a great job of marrying its horror with its themes and mood, using one to heighten the impact of the next, and doing so quite often. Each character struggles with multiple things over the course of the film, and then the horror stuff gets thrown on top of that. They’re intrinsically linked, which makes them stronger than they’d be separately or even if they were introduced and used one after another instead of together. It does what the best horror films do and aims to do more than simply scare; it wants to unnerve, to get under your skin and into your brain. And this is the way to do just that.
It also contains some excellent technical filmmaking, as well as strong performances. Its sense of mood and atmosphere is tremendous, its use of long takes and lighting is fantastic, and some of the transitions that use the miniatures are stunning. Toni Collette turns in what might be her best performance as the lead—it’s a raw, emotionally challenging role, one where a weaker performance really would have hurt the final product.
Hereditary is a great horror movie. It does a wonderful job of marrying its horror elements and its themes in order to strengthen both and create an unsettling film that buries deep into your brain and isn’t easy to shake. It’s strong on the technical side, it has great acting—especially from Toni Collette—and while it runs for just over two hours, it doesn’t feel long. It’s sometimes a slow burn, but it’s never dull, and that burn allows it to build a fantastic sense of atmosphere.
Conclusion: Hereditary is a fantastic horror film.
Recommendation: If you like being scared, watch Hereditary.