Hereditary might not be the scariest horror film of the last decade but it is certainly the best. Barry Jenkins wrote on Twitter that Hereditary features “one of the most visceral moments” he’s ever experienced in a movie theatre. Edgar Wright called it “a beautifully shot and performed supernatural thriller that builds to some shocking sequences.” And Martin Scorsese praised the film, calling it “remarkable”.
The horror genre has grown in the last decade, incorporating elements from other genres; the movies are not all about typical horror tropes anymore. They portray engrossing drama, amazingly fleshed out characters and a premise that draws you in. All of these things ultimately contribute to the quality of horror movies. It could be said that most of the famous horror franchises of the past did not pay much attention to developing the elements in the peripheral of the horror. You could watch a horror movie and walk out of the experience feeling nothing for its characters or the premise.
The trend has changed for the better, however. What you have in the modern horror movie, at least the ones that are good, is a relatable premise and characters that evoke sympathy from the audience. When these characters land in predicaments, supernatural or otherwise, what you have from the audience is a reaction much more nuanced than terror. It is terror at its core, but sadness for the characters and a feeling of “this could happen to me”.
There are many movies that have taken this nuanced horror and polished it to a much greater degree. One of the best among them is Hereditary.
The film casts Toni Collette as Annie Graham, a mother and an artist who is struggling with the death of her mother while trying to finish a series of dioramas for her gallery exhibition. Alex Wolff and Milly Shapiro are Annie’s children, Peter and Charlie both of whom are also coming to terms with the death of the family matriarch in their own dysfunctional ways. Gabriel Byrne plays the kindhearted husband, Steve, who just wants the family to come together. As the threads begin to unravel we begin to realize that much more sinister things are at play in the ancestry of the family here.
The actors’ portrayal of the characters in Hereditary is what really shines in this horror film. Every one of them delivers a stand out performance, really making us feel what it’s like to be in the character’s shoes. The premise and the writing are also praiseworthy. Even if the horror elements were to be removed from the film, it could still stand on its own as a compelling drama with a diverse range of themes.
Another thing that Hereditary does amazingly is throw out audience expectations. The character of Charlie, that the film advertised as the central character in its trailers meets a horrible fate within the prologue of the movie. After this bit, you can wave your predictions and expectations goodbye as the film takes you for a rollercoaster of a ride.
Hereditary takes its due time to establish a feeling of dread in the audience but it does not use or display any horror imagery. What has the audience in dread is the tension among the family members that are reeling from two deaths back to back.
The cinematography cashes in on the dread through the use of colour and camera movements to build upon the monster that lies past the corner, only metaphorically of course.
When the monster does come out, it is especially scary. Hereditary has painstakingly established that feeling of dread, with teasers of the things to come, for you to feel this bit as viscerally as possible. The rules are all thrown out, as you question yourself, “Is this really happening?” “Is this real or a fever dream?”
Ultimately, all of the things coming together make for an unforgettable horror experience. We’d even go as far as to say that Hereditary is best horror experience in the last decade.