‘Hereditary’: When ‘Horror’ Is Truly ‘Horrifying’

Although the movie's plot seems similar to many others in its genre, the dread and horror it instills is not.
June 11, 2018
4 mins read

For a true horror fan like me, the most recent years have been mostly disappointing. The horror industry, at least to me, has begun to feel like a true mirage of smoke and mirrors; a demon possession there, a haunted house here, a dead dog somewhere. Cheap jump scares are the main attack mode, and they happen so frequently that they become more and more cheap and less and less scary.

The most beloved scary movies of the decade tend to be indie: “It Follows” and “The Witch,” both produced by A24, were hits among horror purists. More recently, a horror movie with a big name attached has taken the popularity contest.

Jordan Peele, one half of beloved comedy duo “Key & Peele” directed the Oscar-nominated “Get Out,” which quickly made its way into pop culture phenomena. Similarly, John Krasinski of “The Office” fame hit it big in the horror world last April with “A Quiet Place.”

In “A Quiet Place,” a family is forced to live in silence while hiding from monsters that hunt by sound. (Image via The Ithacan)

“Hereditary” is a mix of both of these elements. It has the indie feel: It is writer/director Ari Aster’s debut with the same A24 name. However, it stars veteran actors Gabriel Byrne and Toni Collette, who, according to many critics, gives the performance of her career.

It is unsurprising to say that it has amazing reviews. It holds a 93 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, an 87 on Metacritic, and a user-voted 8.1/10 on IMDb.

The film’s synopsis is shockingly bland: “When the matriarch of the Graham family passes away, her daughter’s family begins to unravel cryptic and increasingly terrifying secrets about their ancestry.”

To those who haven’t seen the movie, I can’t imagine this description has much pull; there are countless movies that can be given the same blurb. To those who have seen the movie, it seems shockingly simple and plain for this film.

A more thorough synopsis: “Hereditary” follows the lives of the Graham family: father Steve (Gabriel Byrne), mother Annie (Toni Collette), son Peter (Alex Wolff) and daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro). After the loss of matriarch Ellen, each member begins to reflect on their relationship with her, and they find themselves caught in a tangled web of loss that none of them could have imagined.

If it doesn’t exactly sound like a horror movie, that’s because it isn’t exactly one: I found it more disturbing than “scary.” It is truly held up by the incredible performances, specifically Toni Collette and Alex Wolff.

Collette’s Annie is dynamic and beautifully complicated — she is both parts loving mother and hysterical woman. Her son, Peter, played by Wolff is just your typical high-school loner: He smokes pot under the bleachers and fantasizes about the blonde who sits in front of him in English class.

However, Wolff’s ability to portray complex emotion in fewer lines was extremely impressive — and this is coming from somebody who didn’t even like “The Naked Brothers Band” when I was 9 years old.

More than anything, “Hereditary” lives up the word used to describe it: it is horror in the sense that it is genuinely horrifying. This movie infects the viewer with a sense of dread that is uncommon for other films. I can’t in good faith say that everyone should go see it: There are some people that I truly believe would have a very difficult time recovering.

But, if you’re someone who wants the experience of something this disturbing, I’d say go for it. It’s so well done that just writing this article brings back that same dreadful feeling.

Katie Sheets, University of Vermont

Writer Profile

Katie Sheets

University of Vermont

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Don't Miss