Directed by Ari Aster (2018)
by Rosalie Kicks, Old Sport
Hey! Remember when the Hereditary trailer accidentally played before Peter Rabbit and a bunch of parents freaked and claimed their children were forever scarred?! Well, after viewing writer/director, Ari Aster’s feature film debut you may find yourself scarred too.
Hereditary is a horror film. However, unlike the flicks that typically fall into this genre filled with jump scares, monster chases, or a ghastly creature wielding a chainsaw, this film attempts to do horror differently. When watching the story unfold, I didn’t find myself feeling overly scared as much as I experienced an overwhelming amount of sadness. This film utilizes one of the scariest devices of all to evoke such a feeling: family. A group of people in which we are born into. Meaning the choices they have made, like dabbling with a satanic cult for example, may cause one to lead a troubling life.
The story opens with a family preparing to attend a funeral. From this moment, it is quickly realized that everything within the film is a character. The props, the family’s home, sound design and outdoor backdrops were all meticulously chosen and serve a purpose. This is noticed instantly when the camera zooms in on a miniature home which reveals the opening scene. For me this set the purpose and mood of the film. The purpose being to provide an unsettling and often anxious atmosphere that is only exacerbated when viewing this within a cinema with an audience. Being shown the home miniaturized initially made me feel as if I was leering or spying on this family, unbeknownst to them. Throughout the film, we continue to witness the main character, Annie, building autobiographical miniatures of her life. Each time forcing herself to relive often horrific memories.
We are first introduced to Annie (Toni Collette) while she gives the eulogy of her recently departed mother. During this scene, it is learned that mother and daughter were anything but besties. Annie describes her mother’s life as private, going on to say she [mother] had “private friends and private rituals”.
After the funeral, I didn’t get the sense from Annie that she was sad about the passing as much as she was relieved. It isn’t until later in the film when she sneaks off to a grief counseling therapy group that her sadness is revealed. It is this particular scene that I thought back on and realized that watching Toni in this film is truly a gift. It is not to say that the other actors didn’t show up; in fact, they were all quite impressive, specifically Milly Shapiro, who plays the daughter Charlie, and Alex Wolff, who plays the son Peter. Both successfully manage to transfer their feelings of dread, anxiety, and fear from the screen to you. However, Toni’s ability to leave me with such an unsettling mood through the use of only dialogue and expressions cements her as one of the best living actors today.
This movie does a lot of things well, particularly the slow-burn storytelling. It is hard to not find yourself rocking back n’ forth in anticipation for what will happen next. The writing seems all too real, which in turn makes it all that more terrifying. For me, this was not as much a story of the supernatural as it was about grief. The lengths one will go to, to connect to a dearly departed family member. To so blindly attempt methods such as seances, when one knows nothing about this sort of practice, shows the determination we have to feel close to someone we love.
With the recent passing of my pup pal aka best dog in the entire world, Mr. Chow, I have found that dealing with grief comes at you in waves. You think it is gone, but it is always there, lurking around the corner. You are reminded of it as it suddenly punches you in the stomach. Ari’s writing and filmmaking captures this feeling in such a realistic way. It shows that grief is horror. The only complaint I have about the film is the ending. Throughout the film, Ari relied heavily on his actors to tell the story. This was done through their amazing delivery of the dialogue and expressions that were emoted. The way in which certain things were described made my imagination run wild. However, within the last ten minutes, he decided to show the gore, rather than just leave that responsibility to the viewer. This caused me to feel the ending was out of place from the rest of the film.
Overall, I don’t think I will be revisiting this film any time soon but feel if you are going to see it, you should make the trip to the theater. Having my own recent experience of grief, I could not help but identify with Annie. I also could not help but realize I, too, would attempt the impossible if it meant I could spend time with one of my favorite dead people, even if that meant risking the lives of others.