I was already eagerly anticipating this film before I had the date set to view it; but if you were to tell me I was about to witness perhaps the best horror film of the decade before entering the cinema, I would’ve perhaps prepared myself mentally – as Hereditary requires it. Do prepare, because this film is a ride.
Hereditary follows the story of Annie, a mother of two with a troubled past. She and her family deal with grief and the twisted past that the deranged grandmother left behind.
Hereditary burrows its way deep into your chest leaving you cold and unsettled. This is a film with question marks all along the way, as the story is based around a family with a long history of mental illness, secrecy, and tragedy. The secrets throughout are intrinsic to Hereditary as a narrative and help in-part to create an air of mystery throughout the experience as you constantly wonder what will unfold. While the beginning starts off a little slow it utilizes this time by building layers of uncertainty and mystery for the viewer. Questions blared through my mind as viewed this horror; who is the crazy one? Is this supernatural? Is this real? Eventually these questions are revealed in some of the most horrifying ways I have seen in recent memory.
The nightmarish tension is spread throughout the film in waves, you never know when something important in about to be revealed or when another mystery will appear. Furthermore, the fever-dream style of the film makes piecing together the story even more difficult as things begin to jumble. Hereditary is not just a sickening and beautiful display of psychological horror in cinema, it explores something deeper, the haunting aspect of conditioned and even genetic mental illness. It asks: is mental illness passed on from parent to child? Does it run in the blood? Is it hereditary? Or is it created by the cruel and twisted acts that the child was exposed to throughout their life? The questions it poses to the audience and the answers that it gives are what aid in enriching the experience. This is true horror.
The film utilizes its twisted story closely alongside its performances — in Hereditary we are offered some of the most unsettling and believable displays of acting in modern horror. Toni Collette’s performance oozes a sense of instability – throughout the film she fosters a caring and empathetic personality before eventually her motherlike tendencies begin to rapidly contort. Her sudden outbursts are all the more terrifying during moments where she utters words that she seemingly has no control over – the screams and wails that you hear from her will be seared into your brain for a very long time. Alex Wolff plays a truly haunting role in this story, his performance is raw and powerful, coming from such a young actor this is a rare treat and a major accomplishment. The supporting roles all play well into the film – especially from young actress Milly Shapiro as her portrayal of a mentally impaired young girl adds a sick sense of torment to this already tormented film.
Visually this film has its major strengths, though doesn’t go into Oscar territory – the transitional shots were creative, the visual effects were visceral and believable, and the cinematography had flaring moments of true creativity. This is a film that ticks all the collective boxes in technicalities. The soundtrack in this film was powerful and utilized beautifully, we get moments of true grandeur in the films closing track and moments of sheer unnerve in the quieter and more cold scenes. I won’t say this film does no wrong, but this film does no wrong.
In all honesty, Hereditary isn’t perfect, some moments drag and begin to lose their impact, and some characters felt slightly redundant at times (such as the husband). The story won’t be for everyone and I wouldn’t describe the story as something that stands above the best, but it certainly stands with them. This is a film that does everything a horror film should love and it ends in true horror fashion. The messages behind it and the complexity of the story make this a horror experience to remember and one I won’t soon forget. Chilling to the bone, Hereditary delves deep into the demented psyche of a tormented family and elevates the horror genre to new heights.