Spooky Movie Review: ‘Hereditary’

Spooky Movie Review: 'Hereditary'

David Cease, Segments Editor

Hereditary is the slow-burn, arthouse, indie, horror movie from writer/director Ari Aster. Movie buffs may note that Aster is also the director of Midsommar, the wickerman-esque psychological thriller starring Florence Pugh.

Both films are littered with details and easter-eggs respectively, but where Midsommar focuses on relationships and toxic masculinity, Hereditary focuses on broken families with an underlying supernatural element.

The movie opens with a shot of Annie Graham’s workshop where she builds miniature sets and slowly crawls towards a scale replica of the Graham household.

The camera moves closer to one of the rooms of the doll-house, eventually becoming the very real and non-miniature (Alex Wolff) Peter Graham’s room.

However, this shot serves as a great symbol of the story by demonstrating how everything is manipulated, everything is not what it seems, and there is something much bigger and much more ominous at play. 

As is natural in Aster’s films, the cinematography and color palette are excellent. Every bit of visual imagery down to the tiniest detail is purposeful and powerful, which is why many viewers may have to watch the movie more than twice to truly understand all the visual cues.

The dark, atmospheric lighting and colors contribute profoundly to the extremely unnerving environment Aster creates in Hereditary. However, the scariest parts are not even found in the shadows, or in the supernatural, but are instead found in the performances from the cast as the family becomes increasingly unhinged. 

Toni Collette (Annie Graham) undeniably has an oscar-worthy performance in this movie. As a mother dealing with grief after the loss of her estranged mother, Collette pulls off an intense, unsettling, and, at some times, deranged performance.

If the movie itself does not deeply disturb you, Collette’s performance will. There’s also a physicality to all the actor’s performances that sells beautifully. Colette, along with Alex Wolff (Peter Graham), Gabriel Byrne (Steve Graham), and Milly Shapiro (Charlie Graham), communicate a lot of the story through their non-verbal communication, which is important, because the plot itself is a little convoluted. 

One thing viewers should note is that this movie is a slow-burn and it knows that. It doesn’t rely on popular jump-scares or horror movie tropes.

Hereditary is more of a gradual incline than a typical beginning, middle, and end story arc, but that is part of what makes it so refreshing. Annie and the rest of her family begin to see movement in the corners of the room and feel that the world is caving in around them.

The movie mirrors life: deeply complex, with multiple storylines continuing at once. The narrative is reflective of how life can be muddled and confusing in times of grief. The characters are flawed – not your typical set of protagonists and victims, but still they are utterly innocent compared to the dark forces that align around them.

Their humanity is what makes intense scenes have such a visceral feeling and the story would not be the same without it. It’s a blend of deep fears, internal and external. The best way to describe Hereditary is like watching a marionette puppet show.

It appears at first, that the characters are in control of their own actions, their own movements, but really there are a number of hands that are pulling the strings off-stage. 

Overall, Hereditary is about family, or more accurately, blood. A history steeped in tragedy, unforgettable scars, and a desperate grasp for balance are at the story’s core.

Family troubles, something which most people can deeply empathize with, have never felt more real or more unsettling. It’s evident from watching that Aster truly cares about his craft and it’s exciting to see such a non-cliche film in a genre that is often so saturated with cliches.

The title asks the central question: what do people pass down to their children? Mental illness, responsibility, trauma, or all of the above?