I need an outlet to process all of my thoughts regarding this film because oh my goodness, Hereditary was something else. This will be a spoiler-packed review. Is this even a review? I just really need to talk about this.
You see, I actively seek out horror films. I grew up being a real nerd about the genre, and it sort of stuck. When I found out A24 had a supernatural horror starring Toni Colette lined up on their slate, naturally, I freaked out.
I went into this film blind. I had seen the trailer once, saw Alex Wolff slam his head into a classroom table and was sold. I did not expect anything that had unfolded over the next two hours. The trailer had made the premise out to follow a family being haunted by their deceased grandmother. It’s not as straightforward as it sounds. Toni Colette plays Annie Graham, a miniature sculpture artist who has recently lost her mother. Annie and her family face the aftermath of their grandmother’s death in a myriad of ways. They weren’t particularly warm to her apart from Charlie, her youngest daughter. One night, Charlie tags along with her older brother, Peter (Alex Wolff), to a party after being encouraged by her mother. She has an allergic reaction to the cake at the party and the pair rush home. On the way home, Peter is speeding down the road whilst Charlie is struggling to breathe. She rolls the window down, and sticks her head out to catch some air. A dead deer appears on the road and Peter swerves, but inches nearer to an oncoming pole that decapitates his sister in this freak accident. Hit with the death of her daughter, Annie descends into grief, anger, and madness. She meets a Support Group attendee, Joanie, who convinces her of the supernatural and holds a seance to reconnect with her daughter. What follows will completely throw you.
I don’t even know where to start, there’s so much to unpack with this film.
It was very well executed on the technical side of things. The cinematography was insane–it’s stylization really added to the whole atmosphere of the film; it opens with a room filled with miniatures, and the first scene takes place within a miniature model, or rather transitions from a miniature model into a film. It’s a great set-up, as further on in the film, Annie recreates models of things that have happened to her in order to process her feelings and thoughts. It also ends with a scene turning into a miniature model. There’s something creepy about dolls and art, and the uncanny valley of it all especially if they come to life or are true to life somehow. It juxtaposes the film’s idyllic woodland, very privileged setting with the narrative’s themes and absurdity.
Its scares border between being too subtle and wildly in your face. There’s this really amazing technique the director uses that I’m just obsessed with; the figures of dead bodies, apparitions, and possessed family members appear in the background of a central character or object in the frame’s focus. It’s so fucking terrifying. There are multiple instances in the film where it’ll take a while for you to spot the scare; it’s like you make your own jumpscare. There’s a scene where Annie becomes possessed by the spirit in the house and waits above Peter’s bed in the corner whilst the audience is completely focused on what Peter is doing.
There were moments where I genuinely laughed. I’m not sure whether or not the comedic overtone was intentional. It sure was explicit. Again, it did that subtle-but-also-not thing. Everyone I’ve spoken to about this film agreed there were moments where they wanted to laugh, or where they laughed out loud anyway. It was always with the special effects or scares; like every time those three unknown dead bodies showed up and stood in the bushes like they were on Attack on Titan, or Toni Collette air cycling out of her son’s room.
This film tells you who and what it is from the very beginning. I think my mistake as a viewer was trying to assign order to it. This film begs you to organize its chaos, but also asks you to suspend this urge. To some extent, I think it hopes to challenge your initial expectations to a supernatural horror narrative.
There’s a plot point that I find really interesting, and has got me excited about the potential for a sequel; in the film, the grandmother is discovered to have been the leader of a murderous coven of witches, or rather a cult, whose main goal was to carry the demon King Paimon into a flesh vessel. I didn’t realise it at the time until I read up on a few more interviews with the director, Ari Aster, that the ending’s outcome had been foreshadowed from the very beginning. Other than the recurring symbol the cult uses as their insignia, there were things in the script that indicated that it had been the grandmother’s plan all along to use her offspring to further King Paimon’s agenda. In a scene where Annie visits a grief support group, she talks about how she didn’t let her mother come near Peter when he was born, then when she had Charlie, she practically “gave” her to him.
I think the film is a really insightful look at grief, especially related to family. It also highlights the complexity of loss in a really visual way. Though it uses extremes (demonic possession is pretty extreme, if I do say so myself) to represent chaos visually, I think overall the disarray the story’s narrative is a really good representation of what it can feel like once one suffers a loss, and their feelings toward it and the people around them. The last 20 minutes of the film felt like a mad dash to the finish line, followed by a turn off to a beaten path. There were twists upon twists and one red herring after the next; Joanie was revealed to be a member of the grandmother’s coven, Annie was the one to dig up her mother’s grave and invite more spirits into the house, the spirit was after Peter to put Charlie in a male vessel as she’s possessed by Paimon; it was a lot to process at once. That overwhelming sense of just constant world shattering revelations and confusion could be said to represent how quick everything happens around the death of a loved one.
It’s been about a week since I’d seen Hereditary for the first time, and it still weighs heavy on my mind. It’s been a while since a film has been able to affect me in this way, and I’m really glad it had.