Movie Review: Hereditary

HEREDITARY posterMovies don’t normally scare me. Real life scares me enough. There have been some great films with horror elements this year: Annihilation still has some of the scariest moments of the year and A Quiet Place was magic.

Hereditary makes them look like church. Literally, I had too sleep with the lights on the night after seeing it. I’m still disturbed thinking about it.

One of the best things about it is how it blends so many different scary elements into a single narrative. It’s what makes the film hard to explain in terms of its plot and basic premise without spoiling things because you’re really not quite sure what’s going on, what’s real and what isn’t real, until almost the very end.

It also depends on things that are truly scary rather than just cheap jump scares. The scares are earned and come from character and building on the breadcrumbs that the script leaves ever so subtly on its way. In fact, most of the movie you’re just wondering if maybe this poor family just has bad mental health issues and that’s what’s causing all of these problems.

Central to this concern are the family’s parents played by Toni Collette and Gabriel Byrne. Her mother has just died, and the family is all dealing with their grief in different ways. Youngest daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) is not only the only one who seemed too have a positive relationship with the matriarch, but is also exhibiting strange, disturbing behavior of her own.

Collette also befriends a woman named Joan (Ann Dowd) at a grief support group. When Joan teaches her how to contact spirits from the other side, then things really start going haywire.

But aside from the supernatural elements, this is also just a portrait of a family in crisis and how they deal with death and grief. Oldest son Peter (Alex Wolff) is mostly in denial, turning to drugs to numb the pain and also just because he’s a normal teenager who gets high with his friends.

As the family increasingly is at each others’ throats, with mother and son blaming each other, the father is caught in the middle trying to keep it all together. And this is where Collette and Byrne shine.

Believe the hype when it comes to Toni Collette. She is the heart of this movie and we follow her mostly. We’re also left with the same impression her husband is. . . maybe she’s just cracking under the stress of what this family is going through, and these supernatural things are just imaginary? Is everyone just going crazy?

Since so much of the horror is therefore based in reality, it makes the film layered and scary on so many more layers than most other scary movies. And as the final pieces come together in the end, you’re left with a chilling choice: go back and watch it again to pick up what you may have missed, or say “Nope!” because no way are you watching something that scary and disturbing ever again.

Hereditary is that perfect summer counter-programming movie. An antidote to blockbuster fatigue, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. Make sure you have friends to talk about this movie with afterwards and a well-lit place to sleep the night after. Seriously, this may be a movie to check out in the middle of the day. It is just that scary.

4 out of 5 stars