Hereditary Gives Paranoia, Strange Goings On and Bumps in Night But Also Genuine Human Depth

Hereditary follows a family who have recently lost their somewhat difficult matriarch following a long, debilitating illness. In the wake of this elusive grandmother's demise, strange occurrences start to trouble the family and it isn't long before they are left to question what legacy has been bequeathed to them. Eventually driven to the brink of madness by the tragedy which seems to haunt their every move, the family begins to turn on themselves and each other, wrestling with the terrifying truth.

On the face of it Hereditary is set up as a classic horror movie, with strange goings on and bumps in the night aplenty coupled with an abundance of strangers with rictus grins that may or may not have something to do with the apparently ghostly goings on. Add to the mix a heady dose of paranoia and claustrophobia and you have the ideal recipe for a summer scare fest. Where Hereditary departs from the usual horror tropes is in the real emotion displayed. Make no mistake, this is a visceral film- not from violence or gore but from the spectre of loss which haunts every scene. There are moments which exist as pure shock, forcing the viewer to confront pain and loss of unimaginable proportions. I would advise that you see this film when you are prepared to be emotionally shredded. Hereditary is not your typical horror movie and this is where some viewers may depart. I will admit to being left tainted by an aftermath of sadness as well as an admiration for a film which could deliver so much emotive intricacy.

"My mother was a very secretive and private woman. She was a very difficult woman, which maybe explains me."

Written and directed by Ari Aster, Hereditary is superbly cast. Toni Collette gives a raw and heart rending performance as Annie, the daughter of the recently departed Ellen, who comes to realise she is the recipient of a frightening inheritance. I’ve seen other reviewers say that this is the performance of her career and I wouldn’t disagree. Gabriel Byrne also brings intensity to his role as the father and husband left on the periphery of the tortured relationship between mother and daughter, grandmother and granddaughter, as does Alex Wolff as Peter, who is pivotal to the horrifying events which unfold and yet exists on the outskirts of this increasingly twisted family unit.

Aster’s great talent here is managing all that is left unseen and unsaid. This leads to a paranoid, barely glimpsed vision of a family in the midst of all the complexities of grief. Ellen is never tangible; she remains a flash in the corner of your eye, a mysterious presence exerting malignant force on Annie and her family. Aster has managed all elements of the storytelling exquisitely, from the pace which builds beautifully, to the tension between the characters which will make the viewer squirm at times and also the construction of scenes of such realism that lead, despite the horror element, to the experience of abject heartbreak.

What makes Hereditary so stunning is the sheer complexity of it. A key example of this is Annie’s artwork which forms the bedrock of a narrative about self- creation. Through the construction of minutely detailed miniatures with houses full of light, Annie strives to create warmth despite living in a dark, oppressive house. Her recreation of events throughout the film also serves as a form of therapeutic cleansing, an attempt to process the grief and destruction going on around her. The opening shot of one of her miniature houses leads to a view from the outset that this is a story manufactured by someone else and indeed the sense of horrifying inevitability builds throughout the film. Aster has also used music to great effect, maintaining an elusively sparse musical score until the deafening climax when it becomes overwhelming. The film is also visually stunning and Aster has produced a masterpiece of the senses, with every scene evoking some sound, sight or emotion designed to disturb the viewer.

"Don’t you ever raise your voice to me! I am your mother!"

Aster touches on a number of themes throughout Hereditary, the most intense theme being that of the juxtaposition between birth and death and the weight of motherhood. This is a film with a heavy focus on the relationships between the female characters, which again sets this apart from other titles in the horror canon which often reduce women to one dimensional characters who exist to be acted upon. Here, the female characters have a sense of agency which, although vulnerable to manipulation for Annie and Charlie, sets them apart as characters worthy of exploration. Indeed the most soul searching character in the film is Annie who struggles to reconcile her feelings towards her mother and also her view of her own maternal shortcomings.

The takeaway from Hereditary is this; family ties can strangle. Motherhood can be an intergenerational curse and grief can be deadly. Prepare yourself for a soul twisting dive into sadness, loss and legacy and remember to wear your seatbelt.

Hereditary is in cinemas now, you can watch the trailer here.

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