When the matriarch of the Graham family passes away, her daughter’s family begins to unravel cryptic and increasingly terrifying secrets about their ancestry.
Kirsten – Hereditary, at its core, is a film about a family destined to implode. The film follows Annie, played by Toni Collette, who lives with her husband Steven (Gabriel Byrne), son Peter (Alex Wolff) and daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) seemingly in the middle of the woods. When Annie’s mother, Ellen, who she never had much of a relationship with, passes away, the beginning of the end is signed for this detached family.
Annie knew very little of her mother, only that she was incredibly secretive and distant. 13-year-old Charlie seems to be the only family member truly affected by her grandmother’s death. In fact, she seemed to be the only one who had a somewhat positive relationship with her.
The family’s grief becomes incredibly real after the accidental death of Charlie, which both Annie and Peter blame themselves for. In desperate need of comfort, Annie returns to the grief counselling support group she briefly attended after her mother’s death. It is here that she meets Joan (played by Ann Dowd), a woman grieving loss of her own. Joan introduces Annie to the world of séance, showing Annie a way to communicate with Charlie. Soon after Annie and her family channel Charlie’s spirit, strange things begin to happen to them. This creates even greater barriers and resentment between them and leads to their ultimate demise as Annie discovers the secrets her mother has been hiding all these years.
The strength of this film comes with its un-horror like structure. Hereditary does not rely on cheap horror movie tropes like jump scares. Instead, it makes you uncomfortable with its slowness as you watch a family slowly disintegrate. It exposes a detached family with a history of mental illness. Their underlying resentment of each other haunts many of the films scenes. This film is a departure from most horror movies that use characters as one-dimensional storyline pushers. No, in this movie, the family is the story. The always great Toni Collette gives a powerful performance as a mother who was not ready to be a mother, one who still bears the scars of her own childhood. Alex Wolff takes eeriness to the next level as a son secretly afraid of his mother. The raw emotion of these actors carries the film. These characters are real and frighteningly imperfect. Director Ari Aster masterfully brings art, beauty and suspense to the horror movie genre with Hereditary’s beautiful cinematography and character development.
However, this movie is not for everyone. It can feel slow-paced at times. The first hour alone feels like an extended exposition with very little action taking place, with the eventual climax coming much later. If you want a classic scare, this isn’t the film for you. But if you enjoy the chilling, unnerving and uncomfortable aspects of horror movies, boy, do I have a movie for you.
Does Hereditary have you sleeping with the lights on?