‘Hereditary’ Is A Emotionally Intensive, Jarring, and Intelligent Descent Into Family Madness

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8.9 Overall Score

Grief reveals itself in many different ways. There are points were there’s an immediate impact that is on the surface. Other times, it peels back layers of previously repressed trauma. It will make the skeletons in your closet come alive and create such desperation inside you that nothing is off the table. Mix that very human emotion with something rather unholy or unnatural and you get the core of Hereditary.

The movie starts with a funeral that Annie Graham (Toni Collette), her husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), their son Peter (Alex Wolff), and their 13-year-old daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) attend. It’s for Annie’s mother, Ellen and you find out that the relationship was not strong there. From there, it’s a constant descent of unearthing devious family secrets and mind games that really make you question what is real and what’s just in your head.

First time director/writer Ari Aster flashes a veteran-like confidence. There have been previous ventures to try to interpret movies like 1968’s Rosemary’s Baby or 1976’s The Omen that doesn’t necessarily build upon that genre, but merely feel like an update with a new coat of paint. Aster creates his own story that may be reminiscent of those stories and creates something that is unique and unnerving. There’s also a balance of these horrifying image that will cause you to grimace and things that make you create monsters to scare yourself. Sometimes, the greatest fears are those entities that we create on our own.

Aster elects to keep the size of the cast down to the minimal amount of people to create a personal experience and to enhance performances. There’s a lot of emotion that would have been diluted had there of been a broader world introduced. None of this would have had an impact without the amazing portrayals on screen. Toni Collette fully embodies everything about and happening to Annie. You can’t feel but to feel sorry and helpless as everything seems to come undone. Gabriel Byrne attempts to be the glue of the family as Steve, but slowly slips into his own mental prison.

The brother/sister dynamic of Peter and Charlie is very interesting. There are definitely themes of sibling rank, whether intentional or not, that are apparent throughout the narrative. Different types of relationships with their mother Annie and even with each other are little morsels to the greater part of the story. Overall, the family is at the mercy of greater forces other than themselves. The only character that is a link to the outside world, Joan (Ann Dowd) is almost the proverbial devil on the right side of the shoulder.

This is a horror movie that will require some mental work and toughness to proceed through. While there are subtle clues throughout, nothing is spelled out. The movie score by Colin Stetson gives a slow, creeping dirge that heightens the drama at the right times. Why the music works so well is because it doesn’t telegraph if something is coming. The dramatic parts in the instruments happens to keep you antsy and not give you clues. As the Graham family goes through it’s devolution into something sinister, the audience is along for the ride almost as a fifth member of the family. The dread presents itself to everybody at the same time which creates a dire and fulfilling experience.

Hereditary at it’s apex unveils itself to be one thing, but it also speaks to other themes as well. There’s an undercurrent of mental health that the movie speaks to. Death and stress, in both their immediate forms invokes the worst emotions out of us. There’s fear, doubt, resentment, and hopelessness. As the days wear on and as other things make the snowball bigger, it’s harder to get out of that funk. When you are seen as the strong person, something as much as getting help is a show of weakness.

Art is also a big theme of Hereditary. Throughout the movie, there’s a essence of being an artist that is passed down throughout the women of the Graham family. While art is something looked upon as very pure and holy, it’s actually put in use to be the opposite.

Cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski works together with Aster to create a visual experience that will make you feel as anxious as the characters on screen. Some shots are held for a longer period of time to make you feel the full effect of a scene. Other times, there could be one character on screen in focus and something off in the distance out of focus to keep you on edge. The utilization of continual shots and quick cuts are mixed to keep the audience guessing. As disoriented are the characters throughout the movie, you will feel that all of that as well.

The testament of the effectiveness of the story and macabre nature of Hereditary really manifests long after you leave the theater. It sticks to you like a grip of molasses. Long after the movie is viewed, you sit with what you saw and it’s almost hard to find the proper adjectives to describe it. That’s a strong sign of a trans formative horror movie. You start to question if the affliction that was present within the main characters has followed you home after the theater goes dark. Hereditary is one family’s story as they become the worst of themselves with supernatural forces seizing the moment.

Main Photo Credit: A24

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Author: Murjani Rawls View all posts by
Writer | Photographer | Beast

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