There are many reasons why I love horror movies, but my attraction to the genre primarily stems from the raw, visceral reactions a good horror movie induces in a way nothing else can. Based on this criteria, it should be no surprise that Ari Aster’s Hereditary — an unflinchingly cruel, traumatic beast of entertainment — ranks among my favorite movies of recent memory, as it is so destined to shock you that it’s not a question of if you will affected by it, but whether you will enjoy the sheer trauma it puts you through.
This made the delirium of seeing Hereditary in a crowded late-night showing (remember those?) one of my fondest memories as a movie fan. However, what stood out to me from that unforgettable first viewing wasn’t just the audible gasps from the audience, but what we were gasping at, as I quickly realized that Hereditary is two equally unnerving horror movies for the price of one. The difference between the two? One involves supernatural elements, and the other involves awkward family dinners.
Well, maybe awkward family dinners is selling it a bit short. Hereditary features — bar none — one of the most haunting depictions of grief I’ve ever seen in a movie. My use of the word ‘haunting’ might lead you to believe this grief is related to some monster in the closet, but the reason it’s so bone-chilling is because it could easily exist within any mundane family drama (or even real life). Whether it be survivor’s guilt, numbing shock, or — most importantly — the unraveling of a family, all the effects of grief are shown here in uncomfortable detail, and they will keep you up at night just as much as any shocking imagery from the movie.
As for the other, literal horror movie found in Hereditary? It is scary. In fact, it’s very scary. Its plot might sound indistinguishable from The Conjuring 27 on paper, but Aster (can you believe this is his first movie?) injects each set-piece with such class and mastery that the movie will still leave you stone-cold. Early on in Hereditary, there is a moment so utterly shocking that I quite literally covered my mouth for five minutes, only to then grin in awe like a demented mad-man upon realizing that I was in for a wild ride. If you’ve seen the movie, you know exactly which scene I’m talking about, and it completely throws you off-guard for the rest of its runtime and gives you that rare, exhilarating feeling where you have no clue what is going to happen next.
For the rest of Hereditary, Aster teases you with long tracking shots as you constantly expect something to reveal itself when the camera turns around the corner. The jump-scares are scarce to nonexistent, with the movie instead opting for a sense of dread and imagery that will be forever etched into your eyeballs. This restraint from Aster creates an ominous foreboding throughout the entire movie, only for him to then flip the desk over, light the place on fire, and pay off every single set-up in a love-it-or-hate-it final sequence that’s entirely different from everything that preceded it.
But, alas, we need to address the MVP of this movie: Toni Collette. Her performance is…incredible? I know the Oscars are dumb, but it quite literally boggles my mind that her performance as a grieving mother didn’t get her an Oscar, much nonetheless a nomination. In my eyes it stands among the great all-time horror performances, as well as one of the best performances — period — of the 2010s.
Regardless of meaningless awards, Hereditary will hopefully continue to live on in horror fame, turning audience’s nerves inside out for years to come. Aster is certainly at the beginning of his career, and while I have full confidence he will continue to make great movies, I have a hard time imagining him topping something as well-done as this. And if he does? Have mercy on us all, because we may never sleep again.