It’s no secret that the last handful of years have pretty great when it comes to mainstream horror. Still, nothing can really prepare you for what Hereditary is and what it’s going to do to you when it arrives. This movie has been buzzed about ever since it debuted at Sundance and this is a piece of work that earns its praise. While I do fear that expectations are the one thing that can possibly ruin something like this for people, I will not shy away from proclaiming that Hereditary is a special kind of horror movie that is going to mess you up something fierce.
This is truly the kind of movie that is best viewed knowing as little as possible heading into it. That said, in broad terms, Hereditary follows the Graham family after the head of their family passes away. Following the death, her daughter’s family begins to unravel cryptic and increasingly terrifying secrets about their ancestry. It quickly becomes a puzzle with increasingly complex and unnerving pieces that begin to fit together and, as they do, things become far more horrifying. And the horrors reveal themselves in more ways than one.
Hereditary is the kind of movie that is so difficult to write about. Ideally, you would walk into a movie theater knowing nothing but a title (if that) sit down and just let this thing hit you in the face. And I do mean hit. This movie doesn’t arrive at your senses with a gentle touch. While it does mange to subtle in many ways, it’s going to stick with you and it’s going to leave you with images and feelings you simply won’t be able to shake. This is not a horror movie that hangs its hat on cheap jump scares. It hangs its hat on real deal horror. That can be interpreted in several ways and it reveals itself in various forms, but the things that serve to scare in this movie aren’t just scary because someone broke an uneasy silence with a loud noise. These are the kind of things you lose sleep over.
Writer and director Ari Aster asserts himself as a masterful talent right off the bat. This isn’t a man with a lot of experience, but this feels like a movie made by someone who has the skill and wisdom that can only come from years of dedication to the craft. Hereditary does not feel like a debut feature in any way and that is perhaps the highest compliment that can be paid to Aster. This is someone whose career will be watched very closely because of this movie. Whatever he does next, I’m there for it.
Even the best ideas in horror can be ruined by a sub-par cast and, on the other side of that coin, moderate ideas can be heightened impressively with a great cast. Hereditary has the benefit of both having something very interesting to explore while also boasting an amazing cast. Gabriel Byrne and Milly Shapiro absolutely deserve love for what they bring to the table, but there are a couple of truly remarkable performances here. For one, Alex Wolff positions himself as someone to keep your eye on. What he accomplishes here, which is in stark contrast to his very charming turn in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle last year, positions him as a young actor with a vividly bright future ahead of him. But really, this movie belongs to Toni Collette. This is an actress who has been doing very good work for a long time, but she’s never had the chance to shine like this before. Collette delivers a transformative, complex and layered performance that is as good as anything you’re likely to see this year. This movie would likely have been damn good without her, but it’s downright excellent because of her.
A24 has a knack for finding little gems and getting them noticed. This is a movie that feels right at home with their brand. What I don’t envy is the challenge of marketing this movie. As mentioned, ideally, one would go into Hereditary totally blind, but that’s not how people choose to go see movies. Some movies are viewed, others are experienced. This, in my mind, is the definition of the latter. If you’re at all interested in seeing Hereditary for yourself, don’t watch a trailer. Don’t do anything other than go to a theater and experience this for yourself. A24 and Ari Aster have cooked up something that is, above all else, a memorable and horrifying experience.