Hereditary ★★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

This review is rambling and I’m not even sure if all of it is coherent: I just know that this is one of the best psychological horror films I’ve ever seen. Hands down.

The beauty of this film is apparent from the very beginning: miniature diorama scenes are echoed in the precise framing of characters in real life spaces, with each person set in their ascribed place like puppets, or like lambs lined up for slaughter. Even Annie’s ‘normal’ dioramas are anything but: the minuscule plastic figure of her mother standing in the doorway watching her and her husband sleeping, bedside at the hospital trying to nurse a child that isn’t her own. The fluidity of the word “mom?”: always a question, no matter which character’s mouth it comes out of. Deep reds and oranges crop up over and over again in car brake lights and electric heaters: always reflected back into the characters’ faces and their pained eyes. Toni Collette and Alex Wolff are so exceptional in this—Collette shining more and more with each gut-wrenching monologue and Wolff holding us captive in his vacant stare. The film couldn’t have worked without them, and there were moments when I had to just take a breath and force myself to remember that they were acting.
Aster lets moments of horror unfurl naturally by leaving the audience to find what’s wrong with the scene themselves; because he knows that as soon as their eyes catch it the suspense falls right through and gives way to sickening, unrelenting dread. The complete subversion of jumpscares here brings an element of audience interaction into play; by stretching out the moment and allowing us time to breathe before impact, Aster crafts a uniquely horrific experience for each viewer. Preying on the tiny everyday scares we experience in our lives, the film coaxes these moments out of piles of laundry, shadowed shelves and dusty rafters, elevating them into the realm of supernatural gore. It’s reeled back and used sparingly, but it’s so gritty and tactile and just plain disgusting that it turns your stomach. It’s been hours since I saw this and I can’t stop seeing Annie banging her head repeatedly against the attic door while possessed: there’s something so inherently wrong in that image, and even writing this now and remembering it is giving me honest to God chills. I could list off every other moment that made me practically shit myself in the theatre, but that would be redundant and I’d be here all night. Well—I guess I’ve been here all night anyway because my mind hasn’t stopped racing since the credits rolled.
There are so many details in this: it’s tightly wound and stiflingly claustrophobic to keep you rooted to your seat, and I’m sure I haven’t caught them all with just one watch. However, the themes of mental illness and masculine identity are touched upon repeatedly and flourish into these gargantuan, multi-headed monsters: Annie’s struggle with the looming presence of DID and schizophrenia in her family tree bubbles up as she loses agency through sleepwalking and dreams of destructive bodily horror; during the seance Charlie’s voice inhabits her body, frenzied and scared, both to echo fears of losing oneself and mirroring the vulnerability in Peter as he grapples with his own internal conflict and some form of PTSD. I could be off base here, but traits that are seen as the antithesis of masculinity (such as cowardice) are Peter’s demise: his eyes can’t ever rise to meet the reflection in the rear view mirror, he pleads to have his hand held, shrinks at the dinner table and burrows into hoodies and sweatshirts. The theme of not inhabiting your own body comfortably soaks this film in the most base fear we have as people: a loss of identity. Without a sense of self, what do we have to offer? What’s left?
This film never attempts to hold your hand and guide you through its story. It grabs you by the wrist and holds your hand over an open flame throughout the entirety of its runtime—forcing you to look and feel and experience sheer terror alongside the characters. Slick palms, racing heart, breaths that come so shallow and so quick that it doesn’t even feel like you’re breathing at all. Hereditary’s final, heart-racing quarter is nothing short of harrowing. It’s a gorgeously executed emotional and sensory assault, and I cannot wait to see it again.

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