‘She isn’t gone.’
I saw Hereditary 8 days ago. I’m still not over it. Scenes from it replay in my brain at sporadic moments. Images from it appear in the early hours; my brain imposing them onto the shadows. In a year that has brought us some truly great horror films – A Quiet Place and Ghost Stories both being highlights – Hereditary may just end up being the truest and greatest horror film of the year. It is a horror film, don’t let any of the press or cast & crew interviews tell you otherwise. Such terms as ‘elevated horror’ have been bandied about, as if ‘horror’ is a shameful genre to belong to like a scarlet letter. Horror is defined as being the deception of a dark or disturbing matter designed to scare and entertain in a cathartic manner. In fact that definition is something of an understatement when it comes to Hereditary.
Annie’s (Toni Collette) mother has just died after a prolonged and degenerative illness. Their relationship had always been problematic to say the least, fractious and hostile, they had been estranged for much of Annie’s adult life – the birth of Annie’s children with Steve (Gabriel Byrne) lead to something of a ceasefire. It’s not surprising then that Annie isn’t sure how to feel, finding a solace and therapy of sorts in her miniaturist work. She’s also worried about her children, Peter (Alex Wolff) and Charlie (Milly Shapiro) as everything seems to unravel as terrifying ancestral secrets begin to wreak havoc upon their lives.
Sometimes when you’ve seen the trailer beforehand you can know exactly what to expect from a film – you can work out the overarching narrative and how things will probably play out. Not so much with Hereditary. When watching you may recall things you saw in the trailer, but there’s no such solace. They are no longer clues of things to come; in fact they become more unknown throughout. The film doesn’t follow the story the trailer sets up, it’s far more unexpected and unnerving than the one you probably drafted up in your head upon watching. And that’s true of the film overall – it refuses to play by any rules or expectations. Packed full of twists and turns, it refuses to adhere to cliche or the story you want it to be. Without these features there’s no comfort blanket. There’s nowhere to hide as you are just like the family you’re watching unravel on the screen – you too have absolutely no idea what is going to happen.
And during all that uncertainty, trepidation and unease you are going to see some dark things. The level of dark that after watching – be that on your jumpy way home at night or when you feel the impulse to keep the bedside lamp on so you can get to sleep – you can’t help but consider the fact that those images came from someone’s brain. Someone thought of those dark things. They thought of them and thought long & hard about where & when to place them for maximum impact.
That’s then intensified by the cast performances. If there’s any justice in the world Collette will receive acknowledgement during awards season. She depicts every emotion- every colour, shade and depth on the spectrum – with unrelenting intensity. It’s a haunting belivebale performance, unsettling from start to finish. You get the sense throughout that she gave her all so this role. Wolff is simply fantastic, a true rising star, as the young teen unwittingly and unwillingly caught in the middle of it all. He’s incredibly watchable, meeting Collette beat for beat in terms of horrific brilliance. And then there’s Shapiro – joining the pantheon of creepy horror kids with a performance that is spectacularly unsettling. In fact it’s so unnerving you don’t just think it once, you keep thinking it again and again and again.
Just like the film as a whole, it gets under your skin and stays there, leaving everything slightly tainted, tilted and off-kilter.
Public safety announcement: In the immediate post-watching aftermath do not be surprised when answering the question ‘How was the film?’ or ‘What did you think?; you are only able to respond in noises or groans as opposed to actual words. It took me 8 days to get to the point I could write these 700 words….
Hereditary is in UK cinemas from Thursday 14th June.