A family dealing with grief unravels shocking secrets about their history in Hereditary. Annie Graham (Toni Collette) is an artist living with her husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) and children Peter (Alex Wolff) and Charlie (Milly Shapiro). Following the death of her estranged mother, Annie becomes overwhelmed by grief, which is worsened by further family tragedy. After befriending a woman named Joan (Ann Dowd), Annie is encouraged to perform a seance to contact her lost loved ones. However, in doing so, Annie unlocks a secret that has been hidden within her family.
Hereditary is the debut feature film from writer/director Ari Aster, who combines a story about a family dealing with grief with supernatural horror elements. Hereditary is a film that is best seen knowing very little about the plot, especially since the film has a very shocking inciting incident that truly got under my skin. For at least that one moment, Hereditary is the type of horror film that is less about quick jump scares and more about making you feel unconformable in your seat. Of course, Hereditary has plenty of jump scares as well, which are assisted by an excellent sound mix that requires the film to be seen theatrically to get the best experience.
While Hereditary is a very well done horror film, it ultimately doesn’t really have anything that I haven’t seen before. It can be very easy to pick out Ari Aster’s influences for the film, with Hereditary referencing everything from The Omen to The Exorcist to Rosemary’s Baby. It was apparently Aster’s intention to have Hereditary be a film that “feels evil” and indeed the film is quite mean spirited at times, including featuring some elements that might be taboo in other films.
Strangely, the film that comes the most to mind for me in comparison to Hereditary is 2015’s The Witch. Not only are both horror films distributed by indie distributor A24, but both are well-made horror films that could have easily been more. In the case of Hereditary, I thought that the film was a not more effective before the supernatural elements of the film came front and centre. Since the film is structured to suggest that Annie could just easily be having a mental breakdown, I think Hereditary might have been more effective if it kept things more ambiguous.
However, I am still going to say that Hereditary is an extremely well done horror film that did accomplish the rare feat of getting under my skin, even if only for a brief few moments.