Annie’s estranged mother has passed away. In the wake of the death, Annie and the rest of her family feel the effects of the loss. It leads to Annie’s mental state spiraling out of control as she experiences blow after blow. While learning new and bizarre things about her mother, it becomes clear that the death of the family matriarch caused a ripple effect that will change their lives forever.
Writer and director Ari Aster takes audiences on a strange and unexpected journey in his feature film debut. One of the most compelling aspects of the plot for Hereditary is that the story continues to surprise and go in unique directions. I made an effort to avoid all advertising for the film after the release of the initial trailer. With only this very limited exposure, I still had an idea of what I thought the film would be about. However, as soon as the film begins, all preconceived notions are thrown out the window. At regular intervals audiences will be shocked by events in the film that completely take the plot in new and thrilling directions. There are times when the film feels like a psychological film and other times it feels like a supernatural film; yet, every moment is filled with anxiety and paranoia. Each revelation gives new details into the horrifying events taking place, driving the plot forward as it zigs and zags in ways you never see coming. It is the kind of film that is difficult to truly explain without dissecting the plot, but that would lead to spoiling it for those who haven’t seen it yet.
This may not be what audiences and critics traditionally call “scary”; however, Hereditary is truly disturbing and terrifying to watch. Aster brilliantly chose to incorporate incredibly subtle details from start to finish. These details immediately put the audience on edge by letting them know something isn’t quite right, they just aren’t sure how yet. These details are also often downright frightening. The wrongness of what Aster puts on the silver screen is something that audiences are able to feel just as much as see. There is maybe only one genuine jump scare in the entire film, but regardless, the entire film overflows with images that make viewers feel the anxiety and fear right along with the characters. The film is filled with a genuine sense of dread, leaving you deeply unsettled in both a visceral and disturbing way, more so than any jump scare ever could.
Much of these subtle details and terrifying images come from the beautiful way in which the film is shot. There are numerous stunning transitions and ways in which various scenes are framed that both add beauty to the film while also emphasizing the more disturbing parts. Aster also perfectly utilizes miniatures, made by Annie in the film, seamlessly weaving between the real world and the miniature models of the real world. The sets and locations add to this as well. The house where the Graham family lives is gorgeous and dark, giving it an eerie feel even before anything weird happens. There is a very neutral, dark color pallet in the film casting a shadow over the entire family. Every location gives a sense of isolation, from the houses to the art supply store. Even the sparingly used practical effects are subtle and dark as they are meant to heighten the paranoia rather than startle or scare audiences. These elements truly make the film just as stunning as it is disturbing.
The plot is carried by some absolutely superb performances. Toni Collette (Krampus, The Sixth Sense) gives what could be the performance of her career as Annie. Annie has lived a difficult life filled with tragedy, thanks in large part to her bizarre mother. Collette does an amazing job of conveying Annie as a woman who inwardly is strong, but on the outside she appears to others as unstable. She plays with the audience, making us wonder if Annie is sane, or if she is just as disturbed as her mother was. In many of the more intense scenes, Collette is simply perfect in the way she displays emotion and terror and helplessness. It is as if the role was made for her. One of the most surprising performances came from Alex Wolff (My Friend Dahmer, Patriots Day) as Annie’s son, Peter. Watching how Peter reacts as his family slowly falls apart, as well as how he reacts to the increasingly strange happenings, is absolutely mesmerizing. This was an unexpected performance from Wolff, and it makes me look forward to seeing him in more films. Finally, there is Milly Shapiro, in her film debut as Charlie. Shapiro somehow makes Charlie come across as both innocent and eerie, which is no easy feat. It is never clear how much or how little Charlie knows about what is going on around her, and it only adds to the anxiousness of the plot. The entire cast gives the film a haunting and emotional edge.
Hereditary is a disturbing descent into madness that highlights all the best parts of the horror genre. It takes you in directions you never imagined, and it fills you with a deep sense of anxiety, all the while giving audiences a completely unique plot. Combined with fantastic performances and gorgeously dark visuals, it delivers the perfect horror film. I’m confident this film will reveal new revelations and insights each time it is watched, due to how perfectly Aster incorporated minute details that may be missed on the first (or even second) viewing. With how minimal Aster kept many aspects the film, it is hard to believe how truly effective and terrifying every moment is. There is not a single thing I would change about this film, and I honestly can’t wait to see it again. My biggest piece of advice for fans going into this film for the first time: try your hardest to absorb every precise detail on the screen. You never know what might be important later on.
OVERALL RATING: 10/10