‘Every family tree hides a secret.’
Hereditary is a 2018 American supernatural horror feature film written and directed by Ari Aster; it stars Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, Ann Dowd and Milly Shapiro.
When Ellen, the matriarch of the Graham family, passes away, her daughter’s family begins to unravel cryptic and increasingly terrifying secrets about their ancestry. The more they discover, the more they find themselves trying to outrun the sinister fate they seem to have inherited…
A24 (The Killing of a Sacred Deer; The Monster; The Witch) released Hereditary theatrically in the United States on June 8, 2018. Some audience feedback was at odds with the film’s generally glowing reviews, resulting in a D+ from CinemaScore.
On April 28, 2018, various news media outlets reported that a trailer for Hereditary had accidentally been shown at Event Cinemas in Perth, Australia, prior to a screening of PG-rated family film Peter Rabbit.
A local resident named Jane reportedly told the Australian news site WA Today: “Parents were yelling at the projectionist to stop, covering their kids’ eyes and ears. A few went out to get a staff member but she was overwhelmed and didn’t really know what to do. Some parents fled the cinema with their kids in tow.”
Hereditary was classified as MA15+ in Australia. Meanwhile, the MPAA has rated the movie R for “horror violence, disturbing images, language, drug use and brief graphic nudity.”
Review [spoiler alert]:
Ari Aster’s feature directional debut follows a family with a history of dark secrets. Annie, played by Toni Collette (The Sixth Sense) is a miniaturist artist coming to terms with the death of her estranged mother, Ellen. Annie’s thirteen-year-old daughter, Charlie (Milly Shapiro) was close to her grandma and struggles with the loss. She’s soon visited by shimmery lights and cuts the head off a dead pigeon at school.
Annie thinks she sees her mother’s apparition and goes to a support group for the bereaved, where she reveals that her family has a history of mental illness. Due to her difficult relationship with Ellen, Annie refused to let the woman near her firstborn, Peter (Alex Wolff) and regrets allowing her contact with Charlie. The girl’s oddness is manifested through the creation of disturbing pictures and figurines, along with random clucking noises. The viewer has to wonder if the family’s ‘curse’ is a lot more sinister than faulty genetics.
When Peter is invited to a party, Annie makes him take Charlie to help her socialise. After eating a cake containing nuts, Charlie goes into anaphylactic shock and Peter has to rush her to hospital. Unable to breathe, Charlie sticks her head out of the window, only to be decapitated by a telephone pole. Although we don’t get to witness the aftermath, Peter’s reaction is what powers the suspense as he drives home in zombified shock. It isn’t until the next morning that we hear Annie’s screams, followed by a gruesome shot of Charlie’s head back at the roadside.
Annie becomes more and more unhinged, and Peter feels Charlie’s presence around the house and at school, with visions and that customary clucking sound. While tensions between mother and son mount, husband Steve, played by Gabriel Byrne (Stigmata) maintains a resigned composure throughout. These scripting issues crop up periodically through the film with waffling – and occasionally unrealistic – dialogue: Peter shouting “Mummy!” and crying like an adult baby, to name but a few.
Annie befriends a member of her support group, Joan (Ann Dowd) who teaches her how to perform a séance. Annie contacts Charlie with sceptical Steve and Peter, but something goes wrong and Annie is seemingly possessed by her. When Charlie’s old sketchbook fills with worrying images of Peter, Annie believes her spirit has become malevolent and tries to burn the book, but her arms sets on fire.
Annie turns to Joan for help, but she’s disappeared and her apartment is full of objects that resemble a satanic ritual. She goes through her mother’s belongings and finds a photo album linking Ellen to Joan, along with a book detailing a demon called Paimon, who seeks a vulnerable male host. In the attic, Annie discovers her mum’s headless body.
At school, Peter is taken over by an evil force that twists his arm and forces him to ram his head into a table – a stunt performed by the actor himself, which resulted in real blood gushing down to his knees. Steve receives an email from the cemetery informing him that Ellen’s grave has been desecrated, to which he blames Annie and insists that she gets professional help. Annie believes that sacrificing herself is the only way to save Peter and throws the sketchbook into the fire, but this time it’s Steve that bursts into flames.
Peter finds his dad’s cremated body, with a creepy shot of possessed Annie clinging to the ceiling in the background. Whether it was supposed to be Charlie’s spirit or Paimon, one can only guess; but she chases Peter into the attic and hangs upside down from the trap door while bashing her head into the wood. After which, she miraculously appears levitating inside the room and proceeds to saw her own head off with cheese wire – probably the most disturbing scene in the film.
Peter sees a group of naked cult members lurking in the corner of the attic and dives out of the window, allowing the shimmery light to enter his lifeless body. He wakes up and follows Annie’s floating, headless corpse into the tree house, which is as laugh-out-loud as it sounds. Charlie’s disembodied head is crowned and perched on top of a mannequin, while the decapitated bodies of Annie and Ellen are bowing to Peter. Joan is there with other coven members to greet him, except Peter’s body is now inhabited by Charlie and Paimon. The demon has been liberated from his female host and can finally rule over them.
Hereditary is a something of a slow burn with an overly complex plot and some dull characterisation at the beginning. Charlie is the most engrossing, and her shocking death leads to similar moments of brutality; each growing in severity as the film reaches its peak. The set’s dollhouse-like appearance was a nice touch, with camera long shots of dark, boxy rooms. The special effects also deviate from the usual cartoonish nature of so-called ‘shit-your-pants’ movies, which isn’t surprising coming from the producers of The Witch (2015) and Split (2016). However, Hereditary does have a little more substance than its predecessors, even if parts of it don’t make complete sense.
Rae Louise, HORRORPEDIA
“ …Ari Aster’s dreadfully atmospheric feature debut, which, having been critically equated with a new generational Exorcist, entered theaters over the weekend with most insuperable of expectations. And yet, somehow, Aster’s blistering bow does not disappoint. In opinion, certain instances, namely Aster’s brazenly bravura steersmanship and Toni Collette’s towering tour-de-force, actually transcend all preconceived notions going in.” Jake Dee, Arrow in the Head
“Amazingly confident for a debut feature, Hereditary is first-class genre filmmaking. It’s hard for me to imagine seeing a more frightening movie this year—especially after the full-bore climax, which features images that will stay lodged uncomfortably in my mind (and possibly my bad dreams) for who knows how long.” A.A. Dowd, The A.V. Club
“Viewers will get a thoughtful story of grief told through great performances, but what they’ll come for is the scares, and Hereditary shines in this department. Writer-director Ari Aster uses shadow and misdirection to great effect, providing many moments to rile audiences, while also offering moments of shocking, blunt violence as well.” Evan Saathoff, Birth. Movies. Death.
“I didn’t think the film had scared me, but I was very, very wrong. Hereditary will stick with you long after you’ve left the theater. You will want to talk about it. You will want to see it again (I most certainly do). It is a film that will no doubt reward the viewer on repeat viewings, that is if you can stomach it.” Trace Thurman, Bloody Disgusting
“If you just want a smart, unpredictable, and unexpectedly austere horror story, there’s a lot to enjoy here. But taken also as a snapshot (or perhaps an indictment) of the ways in which a modern family is torn apart by lies, secrets, resentment, and their casual indifference to one another, Hereditary is one of the most powerful, memorable genre films of the past several years. And yes, one of the scariest.” Scott Weinberg, Bloody Disgusting
“Wolff essentially loses his mind in real time onscreen; never before has a thousand-yard stare taken on so many different resonances. Shapiro, too, with her striking features and animal-like gait, offers a queasy new spin on the creepy kid archetype. What each actor navigates so well is the space in between control and possession, and some of the film’s most lingering horrors make us wonder who we’re actually watching onscreen.” Randall Colburn, Consequence of Sound
“Metaphors are in play, though not to the extent that Hereditary becomes ambiguously interpretive. It works as a straight dramatic thriller even with its patiently meditative exploration of mourning, debilitating trauma, and pitiable people whose fates are determined by outside actions.” Ian Sedensky, Culture Crypt
” …takes hold and never truly lets up as more truths are revealed and the outcome grows more terrifyingly inevitable. Hereditary is a fantastic horror film that pairs its scares with real emotion, and that combination sees each aspect enhance the other. You’ll remember this one long after the credits end.” Rob Hunter, Film School Rejects
“Veering erratically between promising setups and disappointing payoffs, it shifts from something reminiscent of the scary satire of Ira Levin toward the altogether dopier domain of Dennis Wheatley. Ironically, it’s the very things that Hereditary gets just right that make its clunkier missteps seem so wrong […] A groaning atonal soundtrack, full of rising polyphonic crescendos and harsh cuts, provides a heartbeat of horror that pulses through a film that wears its influences on its sleeve.” Mark Kermode, The Guardian
” …even as Aster soars into Grand Guignol territory, Hereditary keeps a tight hold on its story sense. What makes the movie so satisfying is that while it turns steadily into a batshit-crazy collision of the supernatural and the classically mythological, the family dynamic remains firmly in play.” David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter
“It does some unflinching things with the process of grief and family dynamics and then inverts them in an almost perverse way. It’s a mean-spirited movie, its goal is to fuck you up and it entirely worked on me. From where I’m sitting, there is no way that this film doesn’t end up on my top 5 list at the end of the year.” Trey Hillburn III, iHorror
“Hereditary does offer less of the clean-cut metaphoric flair that a film like The Babadook chases after, since its ghosts don’t exactly function as walking metaphors for depression, grief, or alienation – or a combination of all three. Really, the ghosts are just ghosts; it’s in the characters’ interaction with them that the film’s sense of deep subtext arises.” Clarisse Loughrey, The Independent
“Before it becomes an ultra-creepy haunted house movie, Hereditary is an almost-unbearable study of the grieving process […] Then something far more terrifying happens. Despite some occasional clichéd jump scares, Hereditary excels at permeating a convincing environment of despair with first-rate horror.” Eric Kohn, IndieWire
” …this remarkable directorial debut from Ari Aster builds on classical horror tropes — the occult, possession, mental illness— to craft its own unique spin on terror […] All you need to know is you’re in good hands, and that this is the kind of deeply primal, psychological horror that gives the genre a good name.” Sara Stewart, New York Post
” …Hereditary seeks to confound by swinging between moments of controlled Kubrick-ian terror and unhinged emotional hysteria. There were walkouts. There were people complaining when they marched through the snow to the bus. Even Aster appeared uncomfortable answering questions about the film, which so clearly comes from a place of real pain.” Dan Jackson, Thrillist
“Creepy drawings, fiery seances and decapitated floating corpses are just a few of the relentless scares that will haunt your nightmares after watching Hereditary, which grounds its thrills in harrowing family drama, and manages to make well-trodden genre tropes feel fresh with twisted humor and minimal special effects.” Patrick Ryan, USA Today
” …Hereditary isn’t entirely bleak and grim. There’s a ribbon of dark humor running throughout, particularly in its wild climax, punctuated by a wicked final song choice […] I left the theater feeling a little rattled, a little spent, and entirely relieved that I’d made it through.” Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair
” …what viewers will discover is that the movie, unlike almost every mainstream horror film you see these days, has the substance to match its scares. It gets at something sophisticated: the way that mental and emotional damage becomes part of a family’s spirit, and is therefore passed on as if it were… a spirit. Wherever you stand on the subject of paranormal activity, this is a drama attuned to the ghosts of parent-child communion that live in all of us.” Owen Gleiberman, Variety
” …perhaps since Aster was inspired by his own family, he puts a lot of work into building the connections between the characters. He’s invested not just in their survival, but their emotional health, and their connections with each other. Which makes it all the more tragic as Hereditary threatens these things in turn, cruelly and effectively. It’s a merciless film, crafted for maximum effect.” Tasha Robinson, The Verge
“It’s a tonal masterclass that delves into ubiquitous genre-bending devastation with no allowable escape, plotted admirably and wound tightly with poison-laced barbed wire that taunts as it twists inward. Prepare to be turned-ghost pale by horrors of the mind, body and soul, unlike you’ve experienced in quite some time.” Matt Donato, We Got This Covered
Cast and characters:
- Toni Collette … Annie Graham
- Alex Wolff … Peter Graham
- Milly Shapiro … Charlie Graham
- Gabriel Byrne … Steve Graham – Vampire Academy; Stigmata; Gothic; The Keep
- Ann Dowd … Joan
- Hérédité – France
- Hereditário – Brazil; Portugal
- Hereditary – Das Vermächtnis – Germany
- Η διαδοχή – Greece
- Örökség – Hungary
- Dziedzictwo. Hereditary – Poland
- Наследственное – Russia
The film was shot in February 2017 in Park City and Salt Lake City, Utah, USA