About 30 minutes into Hereditary something so jarring, upsetting, and unexpected happens that I turned to the coworker who’d invited me to see it and glared. How could you trick me into watching this? I thought. Then I quickly turned back to the screen. Hereditary had me hooked, and for the next hour-and-a-half,,,, all I could do was let its terrifying story of family drama and family demons wash over me.
At its heart, Hereditary (directed by the previously unknown [Ari Aster) really is a family drama. It just happens to tell the story of an extremely messed up family. The movie starts on a pretty dark note as the family — mother Annie (an incredible Tony Collette), father Steve (Gabriel Byrne), a pothead teenage son (Alex Wolff), and troubled daughter (Milly Shapiro in a captivatingly scary performance ) — shuffle off to grandma’s funeral, but from there things only get darker.
Each member of the family struggles to cope with death in different ways, and grandma’s presence continues to loom over the entire home. The movie really kicks into high gear with a second death, which sets off a series of events that plunge the rest of the cast into well-worn horror territory. Hereditary feels like a perfect combination of Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, offering up all the classic demon cult tropes you could hope for from hordes of flies and mysterious foreign prayers to multiple gruesome beheadings and creepy,, smiling naked cultists. It also features one of the best on-screen seances I’ve ever seen.
What really makes Hereditary stand out, though, is the acting, specifically from the two female leads. Shapiro as the 13-year-old daughter, Charlie, is incredible, somehow conveying both horror and pity in every shot. In one scene she methodically chops the head off of of a dead pigeon and stows it away in her pocket. In another,, she struggles to fit in at a high school party. Nothing feels out of place, and I only wish her character was given more screen time.
As a mother attempting to hold her family together while she mentally unravels, Collette’s performance is equally impressive. One moment she’s a suburban mom venting about the loss of her mother, the next she’s possessed by a demon and … well, I’d rather not spoil the gruesome specifics, but there were more than a few moments where she had the entire theater squirming in our seats.
Once Hereditary gets going,, it doesn’t hold back. Thingss are going to get scary, and gross, and more than a little crazy. The demonic logic that guides the story doesn’t necessarily hold as the film hits its climax, but by then it doesn’t really matter. You’re hooked and there’s nothing you can do about it until Hereditary finally lets go with an eerie,, if imperfect,, ending.
Even after it’s over, Hereditary still has me hooked. I can’t stop thinking about the story, the imagery, the acting, and how it all comes together to form one of the scariest horror movies I’ve seen in years. I’d love to see these characters again (and I’ll be first in line for whatever the director comes out with next), but I don’t think I’ll be rewatching Hereditary any time soon. It’s just too scary.