Film Review – Hereditary (Spoiler-free)
Hereditary may be one of the most talked about films of the year, having significant word-of-mouth and excellent reviews from Sundance and SXSW to carry it to its release date of June 8, 2018. That is precisely what brought me to the screening, expecting to possibly pee myself or not want to sleep in the dark afterward. I’m not a super big fan of horror films, but the experience of seeing it with friends can’t be beat.
Written and directed by Ari Aster, the film centers on a family reeling from the loss of their grandmother, Ellen. She died after suffering from dementia and had a complicated (mostly bad) relationship with her daughter, Annie (Toni Collette). Annie’s daughter, Charlie (Milly Shapiro) was especially close to the grandmother and vice versa. On the other end of the spectrum is the older son Peter (Alex Wolff), an aloof teenager focused more on smoking weed and fantasizing about girls than caring about the emotions of his mom and sister. The father, Steve (Gabriel Byrne), is the only normal one in the entire family and this statement holds true to the end of the film.
The death of Ellen is beginning of the twisted world of Hereditary. Based on the necklace pendant she wears and some of the crazy things seen in her old room and belongings (because we all have things carved on our floor and it is totally normal), it is clear that she is part of some sort of cult or cult-like religion. If you look up the symbol on the pendant seen in the trailer, you are already half-way to figuring out what is going on in the film. Let’s just say that something sinister has a presence around and in this family.
The tricky part of reviewing a film like this is that the trailer does not give away the major catalyst to things going completely insane and the degradation of the family. I have not read any other reviews of Hereditary, and hopefully, they hide what happens because it is a shocker. The event also provides cringe to the audience waiting to see if it is shown in detail. Therein lies the crux of going into themes, hidden messages, and exploring the different scenes in the film. To do so reveals a major spoiler and robs the viewers of the experience you had watching the film. Suffice it to say that this second event is horrifying and has further repercussions on every family member.
Mental illness is used in Hereditary to complicate its events further. The grandfather starved himself. As a result, the uncle killed himself, and the grandmother had dementia and DID (dissociative identity disorder). Annie does not appear to have inherited anything other than depression, but there is clearly something a little off about Charlie’s personality. She likes to make weird, little objects that sometimes include dead animal parts. The title suggests something is present in the family and is passed down, but Peter appears to have nothing wrong with him.
A creepy element carried throughout the film is Annie’s occupation as a miniature artist. She builds dollhouse-like settings and intricately recreates events and places. After her mother dies, Annie recreates her deterioration in elaborate detail, making this series part of a gallery presentation coming up soon. While they keep her mind occupied in her time of grief, the art also represents a way for Annie to work out what has happened to her family and not always in healthy ways.
The talented Ann Dowd plays the supporting character of Joan who is not exactly who she appears to be. Joan shows up in a grief group meeting and approaches Annie as she decides to not get out of her car one night, the sadness being too much. Joan immediately likens herself to Annie, sharing that she lost her son and grandson recently. She comes off as a friendly, older neighbor, someone who has warmth and with whom you would want to have a conversation. Joan becomes Annie’s friend, and she hesitatingly trusts her. It all becomes too much for Annie when Joan goes off the deep end and starts believing in seances and mediums, things Annie is not comfortable experiencing. Awakening the souls of the dead and bringing them forth to the living is too much for Annie.
Hereditary is not a scary, horror film in the traditional sense. There is a couple of jump scares, but other than that, it relies on the building dread that something is wrong and the quizzical situations and scenes that don’t quite make sense. There is a lot of symbolism and situations that even after the film ends, still have you scratching your head. Honestly, it is worth a second viewing after knowing the ending to pick up on all the hints and nuances Ari Aster has placed in the film. The final scene brings forth all of the built-up confusion to one big “What did I just see?” While this is not a scary film in the traditional sense, it is thoroughly disturbing and will leave you thinking about it for days to come, gnawing at your mind.