A recent article in The New York Times talks about a renaissance in horror films–never have their been so many character driven, adult-oriented horror films. Get Out, The Quiet Place, and now Hereditary are all getting adults into the theaters for horror, which was once the province of teenagers.
I’ve read more than one article by someone who states that Hereditary is the scariest movie they’ve ever seen. I can’t go that far (I think I still have to go with The Exorcist) but it is one of the most disturbing films I’ve ever seen, and two days later it’s still sticking with me. The ending, which everyone will be talking about (go see it before it’s spoiled) is borderline silly, but director Ari Aster turns what could have caused giggles into gasps.
As with these recent sophisticated horror films, Hereditary has grander themes. You could call it Ordinary People with ghosts. A well-to-do family that lives somewhere in the mountains consists of mother Toni Collette, father Gabriel Byrne, older brother Alex Wolff, and little sister Milly Shapiro. Collette’s mother has just died, and she has mixed feelings. They were estranged until mom moved into her daughter’s house with dementia. At the funeral, Collette reads a eulogy that talks of her mother’s “private rituals and private friends.” And how.
I don’t want to give too much away, but there is a gruesome accident that further unstrings Collette, She runs into someone at a grief group that shows her how to conduct seances. Pawing around in her mother’s things she finds books on spiritualism and the occult. One page that’s focused on is about King Paimon, one the kings of Hell. I think he’ll become quite popular this summer.
The first half of Hereditary is somewhat slow, but not boring. Collette is an artist who makes miniatures, much like dollhouses. A sly edit in the opening credits suggests that the family lives in a dollhouse, which is open to all sorts of interpretations. The film also does not sentimentalize family attachments. Collette awakes from a dream where she tells Wolff that she never wanted him, and tried to have a miscarriage. Shapiro is an odd child that makes things out of cast-off objects. She finds a dead bird and calmly cuts its head off with scissors. That’s only one of many decapitations, be warned.
Hereditary got a D+ from CinemaScore, which may mean it’s too much for average audiences. But for those who pay attention and understand cinema, Hereditary should rank among the best horror films ever made. Collette deserves an Oscar nomination, and Alex Wolff is terrific. Shapiro is a very unusual looking child–I’m sure Aster probably saw a lot of children for the role and stopped dead in his tracks when he saw her.