On the surface, Hereditary offers very little new to the horror genre. The trailers suggest a very cerebral, very artistic horror/suspense revealing the most “shocking” and terrifying moments there in the teasers. A24 studios has been really good about pulling the rug out from under audiences before, though, with films like VVitch and It Comes at Night which both promised very action packed, visceral horrors and which both proved to be much more thought provoking than gruesome. Luckily for gore hounds the world over, Hereditary is even more twistedly violent and horrifying than any preview has led us to believe.
The story of Hereditary centers on a marginally upscale family living in a secluded home in the middle of fucking nowhere. I add the expletive because it’s important to understand that there is literally nothing for tens of miles surrounding this home but dense conifer tree forests and sparse desertscapes. It’s a very off putting setting that serves to make the characters, and the audience, feel absolutely insignificant against the gargantuan backdrop of things to come. You recognize from the bleak darkness and star speckled void over the rooftop and treeline at night just how utterly and infinitesimally unimportant your life is to the cosmos.
Hereditary’s plot focuses on a mother with clear mental health issues stemming from some significant childhood losses -her father and brother’s suicides- as she grieves for a mother who she, frankly, didn’t have the healthiest of relationships with. This soons spills over into the sudden, graphic, and brutal loss of her young daughter in a car accident where her son was driving. The strain on the family, the relationships, and herself is immeasurable and is very clearly evident during a nightmare in which she tells her son that he was, essentially, a failed abortion.
Throughout the film there is an underlying hint of a bizarre cult and its perpetual, clandestine involvement in the lives of the children and their mother. The last thirty minutes of the film are beyond brutal but done so artistically as to truly make this more than a shriekfest. And, I might add somewhat happily, despite the constant set up for some epic jump scares, the film relies solely on the narrative and atmosphere to terrify until the climax and ending. The special effects are absolutely nothing special if you’ve seen an episode of The Walking Dead or watched a horror film made in the last ten years but, unlike many films in the genre, it isn’t about gross out gore and make-up.
The entire plot of Hereditary, the tone and timber of the entire film is about exploiting one of the most tragically painful experiences a person can go through to make the audience feel so hopelessly at a loss that, by the time things really go sideways, there’s nothing left but to hang on and ride out the horror.
Hereditary is in theaters now.