‘Hereditary’ Is Hardcore Family Horror

Reading Time: 3 minutes

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It’s now officially September, which means it’s almost October, which, in turn, means that it’s almost Halloween. (Don’t try to fight me on this peculiar chronology, folks; just go with it!)

The slow but steady oncoming of autumn always puts me in the mood for something spooky, and, though I tore through my existing horror stockpile back in February during a late-season flu, I’ve been uncharacteristically slow to rebuild my stores. One movie particularly high on my Halloween watch list, however, was Ari Aster’s Hereditary.

I was afforded an early look at the newly released Blu-ray + DVD + Digital combo pack from our friends at Lionsgate, and my initial impression was that, much like standouts The Babadook and Get Out before it, this film definitely lives up to the horrific hype.

Sullen and dreamlike, Hereditary—like its aforementioned brethren (sisteren?)—concerns itself primarily with a family in turmoil. Annie Graham, a visual artist that recreates lifelike structures and scenes in miniature, has recently lost her mother. Yet even as she eulogizes her mom in the film’s opening moments, it’s clear that their relationship was less than stable.

The recently deceased Ellen, we are told, was peculiar and secretive, and as Annie seeks solace in a support group, it is further revealed that the family has long suffered from mental illness and suicide. With that, the stage is set for a harrowing exploration of the Graham clan’s dysfunction with sinister implications and shocking revelations around every turn.

While the audience is kept guessing well into the third act as to whether the root of all this misfortune is supernatural or psychological in nature, Hereditary‘s first big plot twist—which occurs when older brother Peter is forced to take little sister Charlie along to a party—is one of the most distressing turns (at least in mainstream cinema) in recent memory.

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Numerous critics at Sundance literally walked out after the scene in question, and even though that clued me into the fact that something was coming, the lengths the film goes to in service of its taut, serpentine plot are, to put it mildly, uncompromising.

I’m intentionally keeping this review spoiler-free, but let me caution against sharing this one with young or easy frightened viewers. The MPAA rated it R for violence, language, nudity, drug use, and disturbing images, and responsible parties should take each of these warnings to heart.

That said, the content of Hereditary, while specifically designed to unsettle the audience, is never used to merely titillate. Everything, no matter how disconcerting or distressing, serves the story. And what a story it is.

While young Milly Shapiro (as odd duck Charlie) is an early favorite, the film is truly powered by the strength of Tony Collette’s Annie and Alex Wolf as Peter. Their grief, guilt, and gut-wrenching panic bleed through in every agonizing scene.

The film, too, is aided by nigh-flawless cinematography, complete with drastic cuts and unlikely transitions. All of this, in turn, highlights a script that is designed to challenge, misdirect, and ultimately impress unlike any before.

Hereditary owes a great deal to the conspiracy horror of the 1960s and ’70s—there are ample nods to Rosemary’s Baby in particular—but it still manages to be an engagingly modern production. Save, perhaps, a few too many CGI insects, the visuals are impeccable, and its pitch-perfect pacing makes its two-plus hour runtime speed by.

This combo pack comes complete with deleted scenes, a photo gallery, and the “Cursed: The True Nature of Hereditary” featurette, but all this serves to supplement a feature that easily stands on its own. (Though, admittedly, it’s hard not to long for a sadly absent director’s commentary track.)

All that is to say that Hereditary is an undeniable must-watch this Halloween season. Just be sure you come prepared to be stunned and left utterly breathless. Oh, and enjoy it far, far away from your impressionable geeklings!

Review materials provided by: Lionsgate

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