Over the last 5 or so years, I’ve been gradually losing faith in the horror genre of movie making. I know, quite dramatic, right? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not claiming that no good (or even exceptional) horror films haven’t been released over the last few years - just take The Conjuring as an example. The problem however, dear reader, is that it’s been ages since a horror movie has actually properly scared, unsettled and slightly terrified me. So much so, that I actually started forgetting how it feels to have a horror movie creep into the dark crevices of your mind and find a nice, warm little corner to torment you from.
Luckily for me though, I made the glorious mistake of going to watch Ari Aster’s directorial debut horror movie by myself, in a completely empty cinema, at night. Thanks to Ari’s instant horror classic, I haven’t been sleeping soundly ever since I’ve watched it and I even find myself embarrassingly running from light switch to light switch at night (even a week after). Not only is Hereditary an exceptionally well made horror film, but it’s a legitimately fucking scary one. And that’s the greatest compliment I can give a horror movie.
So what actually makes Hereditary so profoundly unsettling? As is the case with all highly considered horror classics, Hereditary’s overall staying power is a culmination of various painstakingly nuanced and subtle directorial touches. It’s clear that 30-something Ari Aster has an amazing knack for building a dread-filled horror storyline that slowly tightens its grip on its viewer.
|Believe it or not, but Milly Shapiro's chilling performance is not the scariest thing about this film...|
One of the core aspects of what makes Hereditary so utterly dreadful, is the standout performances from the entirety of the ensemble cast. It’s been ages since I’ve had the pleasure of seeing an ensemble cast command the screen so confidently in a horror film: From a super creepy performance by the very young Milly Shapiro and a highly emotive one from Alex Wolf, to seasoned acting chops from Ann Dowd (Handmaid’s Tale) and Gabriel Byrne (Vikings, Stigmata). A special mention has to however go to Toni Collette, playing the role of an unsettled mother, estranged from her equally unsettled family. Collette’s nuanced performance masterfully shows the scars of the complicated events that transpired before the film’s plotline, whilst also illustrating her terrifying gradual descend into dreadful hysteria, as she slowly uncovers the terrible truth of her family heritage. I wouldn’t be surprised if Collette receives a few award nods for this performance (yes, she’s that good).
Part of what makes a horror movie really scary to me lies in the things you as a viewer are not told about – when your mind is allowed to fill the gaps for itself, it has the makings for a truly unsettling cinematic experience. This is why I was so relieved that Hereditary doesn’t fall into the classic Horror movie trap of over-elaboration. The film doesn’t babysit its viewer with loads and loads of backstory and context. Although the central plot is by no means anything highly complicated, it’s the rather muddy and unclear backstory of the family that really gets to you. The Graham family is as unaware of the actual truth behind their family heritage as is the moviegoer, with the film gradually relaying only little titbits of the disturbing backstory to its viewer over time. This culminates in a truly terrifying final 10 minutes, where the forces behind the scenes finally play their cards in a distressingly spectacular fashion.
"... when your mind is allowed to fill the gaps for itself, it has the makings for a truly unsettling cinematic experience."
I can seriously go on and on about how amazing this film is and I haven’t even started delving into all the other standout aspects of the film, like the remarkable cinematography and the profoundly eerie score.
All you need to know is that Hereditary is an undeniably absorbing and stirring horror movie experience that never relies on cheap scares and thrills to get its audience’s attention. It’s one of those rare horror movies that is so surprising in its approach that there is no way to mentally prepare yourself for the chilling journey it will take you on.
Go watch this film if you’re brave enough to find out how much a masterfully crafted horror movie can deeply upset you.
If you dare, that is.