Review: ‘Hereditary’, Make Sure You Are Always On Your Family’s Good Side

Hereditary tells the story of Annie Graham (Toni Collette) and her family trying to recuperate after the passing of her mother. Annie’s mother was an extremely private and secretive woman with large portions of her life not known by the rest of the family. Annie’s family and upbringing were steeped in tragedy and mental illness, and Annie’s husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) did not want these issues to plague Annie or their children, so he tried to separate his family from Annie's mother. He was successful in doing so until the guilt overwhelmed Annie and she let her mother into their lives as she became sick. Annie's daughter, Charlie (Milly Shapiro) developed a bond with her grandmother, and the strength of this bond caused her to be devastated by her grandmother's passing. Charlie has always been a loner, getting lost in her drawing pads and fantasies – not caring to interact with other children, and the death of her grandma only exacerbates this. Charlie and Annie both begin to see visions of Annie’s mother as they fall deeper into a state of mourning. Annie’s son Alex (Peter Graham) did not have the connection to his grandmother that Charlie did, but he deals with the loss in his own way. As tragedy continues to strike the family, Annie’s desperation leads her to the spiritual world, one that may change the lives of her family forever.

Hereditary manages to build dread throughout its entire runtime. It is almost as if there is an eerie, ominous, fog that hovers over the film. The audience dreads what is coming, but you are never quite sure when the terror will strike, and how. Inside of the Graham household we see muted colors and darkness, usually one small light or area of light trying its best to illuminate a room. Only outside the house, when the children are in school or Annie makes it to a grief counseling session, do we see brighter colors creeping into the film. These moments are few and far between and typically manage to turn sinister. Writer and director Ari Aster successfully builds a terrifying environment within the Graham’s house that leaves you short of breathe every time they are home. From the lack of colors to the melodic ticking of clocks, the audience is pulled into their world, almost feeling like we are there with them. The sounds that Aster employs throughout the film are masterful, they are soothing but each note seems to have something sinister behind it. 

The film highlights how a family deals with loss, individual and as a unit, and how this loss can tear them apart. As Hereditary progresses we move into the more blatant supernatural. From the inner trances and possible visions the characters experience to the communication and contact with the spiritual world. Aster manages to seamlessly create this shift, without taking away from the buildup or suspense that proceeded it. Aster has you believing in what you are seeing, just as Annie does. The acting for a majority of the film is top notch, with Collette’s performance standing out. She exhibits a wide range of emotions, but it is those moments where she is in a trancelike state – almost emotionless – that really stick with you and make your skin crawl. Hereditary may not reinvent the genre, or go down as a horror classic, but it is an overly successful thriller and quite the ride.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5