It seems we’ve all been spoiled this year in terms of high-quality horror. Ghost Stories brought back the British horror tradition with a complex narrative and ingenious use of the social realist aesthetic. A Quiet Place gave some incredible tension, featuring a new spin on the monster movie with a strong emotional core. Now we have Hereditary, a film to top off and surpass these fantastic few months of movies.
The film centres around a recently bereaved family who have lost their apparently ‘difficult’ grandmother, though the youngest of the family Charlie takes it particularly hard. After a horrific accident early on in the film, a dark mystery stretching back several generations begins to unfold, resulting in increasingly more pain and tragedy for the Grahams. This narrative is wildly unpredictable, heartwrenching and powerful, exploring the nature of grief both literally and thematically.
Unlike the former two, which rely on (admittedly effective) jump scares to provide the horror, Hereditary has basically none, allowing the voyeuristic camera, intense performances and incredibly disturbing images to do the work instead. On numerous occasions, I found myself holding my breath and aggressively gripping my own face despite the knowledge that I knew nothing would jump out at me. A horror film has not been able to do this to me since I last watched The Shining.
If Toni Colette doesn’t receive an Oscar nomination in 2019 for her work here, I will riot. In what will be looked upon as the defining performance of her career, Colette produces hauntingly genuine reactions to the horrifying situations she is presented with. Rarely have I felt more convinced of the depth of a character, with her portrayal of Annie feeling accurate to the behaviour and demeanor of a lifelong abuse victim.
My boyfriend has occasionally brought up to me the idea of a horror movie directed by Wes Anderson; the visuals of Hereditary are close to that concept. The cinematography utilises many wide shots and long tracking takes to build tension and give a sense of every characters isolation within the family. With a meticulous mise-en-scene involving hundreds of miniature models created by Annie, the props often foreshadow plot elements, or help to thematically link characters with events and how they react to them.
The tight, clever writing will certainly warrant many a rewatch. For days after I’ve been remembering throwaway lines in the first act that actually had a huge bearing on the plot, almost like an Edgar Wright film. The monologues of the film are fantastic too, Annie’s explanation of her family life at the group therapy in particular.
If you can stomach some of the gorier content of the film, I could not give Hereditary a higher recommendation. If you can’t, give it a go anyway; for most, it’ll be worth it.