I’ve been thinking – no, obsessing – about Hereditary to no end. It's a transgressive experience that echoes the best horror of all time, and defiantly proceeds at changing or rather eliminating the formula. Yes, it’s overworked at times and the pacing makes it feel like a film from another generation, but there has not been a film so deeply disturbing, unsettling, or effective at breaking down the mechanics of fear on both conscious and subconscious levels. This is a horror movie for thinking adults that doesn't pander to the audience, demands investment, and defies conventions.
At face value, Hereditary is a melancholy drama that primarily deals with grief of a disconnected family that can’t escape tragedy. The mother (a sensational performance by Toni Collette) is a detached artist who works on creepy miniature replicas of her house and family. The son is emotionally battered and floundering. The younger daughter appears to have has some some developmental challenges and some dark interests. And the father walks around like a ghost trying to hold everyone together.
For the first hour, we delve deeply into their emotional family issues that are instantly relatable and yet in the periphery is something much more sinister at work. Scene by scene you wonder where and when this thing will suddenly explode. But it doesn’t. The immensely smart narrative does not follow the beats of a conventional horror movie (build up, release, repeat). What it creates is long, sustained dread and tension along with a subtle persistent aural soundtrack that affect the viewer with impending doom. And then the giant walloping begins.
I sat breathlessly and at a complete loss when it does proceed into wickedness. Scene by scene follow chaotically in discordant quiet intervals, adding bits and pieces of information, never letting anything settle and the battering continues. This arthouse film delivers on its promise and nothing remains ambiguous, for better or worse. The visuals it creates are unnerving and remain seared into your brain. The artful cinematography makes it impossible to look away as scenes transition with effortless, lyrical ease into non sequitur edits that heighten the anxiety. The film forces your eye away from the focus, a character in the bed for example, and makes you look deeply in the dark corners of the frame. Even when those things don’t register immediately, your mind certainly sees them. It’s impossible to explain how it works on the level that it does.
Just to be clear, there are no cheap scares here. Audiences looking for a traditional horror may be disappointed by the pace, but those who embrace the experience will find it absolutely chilling. To say any more would be to ruin the experience and I recommend going into this without studying trailers too closely. This is arthouse horror at it’s absolute best with nods to everything from Rosemary’s Baby to The Shinning to The Exorcist. In other words, Hereditary is a modern classic.