Summer is the time for big blockbusters like “Star Wars” or one of the many Marvel movies, not a low-budget, independent horror film that’s directed by a rookie with relatively unknown actors. With that said, “Hereditary,” written and directed by Ari Aster, completely defied expectations and delivers a gut punch of horror and dread for its complete runtime. The studio, A24, distributors of “The Disaster Artist,” “Lady Bird,” “Moonlight” and 2018’s other hidden gem, “Eighth Grade,” is easily the best independent film company operating today, and “Hereditary” only helps its cause.
The film centers around the Graham family as Annie’s (Toni Collette, “Little Miss Sunshine,” “The Sixth Sense”) mother passes away and leaves behind an unknown legacy. Charlie, played by the amazing Milly Shapiro, is an awkward girl who creates different structures with random objects, while her brother Peter (Alex Wolff) is a stoner and does not really interact with the family. Personally, I am not a huge proponent of watching trailers over and over again in the event that something is spoiled for me. I highly recommend not watching trailers, especially for this film, since plot points and surprises can be tarnished. Going in blind to any movie is the best way to go, especially if it’s a movie you want to see. If you do not want any more plot points spoiled, you’ve been warned.
Opening shots are the key to any film. It sets the tone for what is to come. “Hereditary” does so by opening on a tree house with the camera panning around a room with a collection of miniatures, then proceeding to seemingly go inside one of the miniatures where we see Peter and Annie’s husband, Steve (Gabriel Byrne). The sly editing does not allow the viewer to see the cut into the actual set, which in turn makes the viewer feel like he or she is intruding on this family. It’s a really unsettling feeling, enhanced by the score from Colin Stetson that pervades the rest of the film.
I really did not know what to expect from “Hereditary.” After it premiered at Sundance Film Festival, it garnered great buzz and praise from critics. After it was widely released in the United States, the critics still loved it but the audience rating was very mixed. From the people I’ve talked to about it, they have said it’s either a, too gory or b, too boring. While the former may be true (this film is not for the faint of heart), I found the pacing to be perfect. The tone and pacing remind me of “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968) and some plot elements remind me of Hitchcock’s “Psycho” (1960), which are arguably two of the greatest horror films ever made. The film takes its time developing its themes and ideas, making the audience actually care for the family rather than depicting them as one-dimensional characters who we really do not care about if they die. There are deaths in the film, and when they occur, the viewer really feels the weight and intensity of it.
Aster has created a near-perfect horror film that sends chills through the viewer. Simultaneously, he created a near-perfect family drama about dealing with grief and loss, which makes “Hereditary” stand out from other modern horror films such as “The Conjuring” or “Insidious”; it takes itself seriously and it’s all the better for that. I liken this film to “The Babadook” and 2017’s best surprise, “Get Out.” They both defied expectations, especially “Get Out,” coming from a comedic actor. “Hereditary” will, hopefully, be discussed in the years to come. With all of this said, I will give a warning. The film is not an easy-going experience (to put it lightly), so if you do not like horror films to begin with, I advise you not to see the film. If you do end up seeing it (as it is on Blu-ray and Digital now), you will witness one of the best horror films of the past decade.