For the past two decades, the horror genre has been mostly throwing out hollow, lifeless films that play on the most basic of fears while producing no memorable substance (I recently learned that yet another Insidious movie is coming out). However, it seems that lately, it’s been experiencing another golden age and is establishing itself as something much more than a source for cheap, late-night scares. With films like Get Out, A Quiet Place, and now Hereditary, horror is once more showing itself as a genre worthy of study.
On the surface, Hereditary is not unlike the numerous and forgettable horror flicks that have been modeled after, if not completely ripped off of, some of the great cult classics. The conclusion of its story would only come as a surprise to anyone who had either a) never seen a horror movie before, or b) had, like myself, fallen in love with the movie and hoped it would be taking a more unexpected turn. However, that did not make the movie the least bit boring or predictable. Though the ending was nothing new (I won’t spoil it), the rest of the film was very well done. The characters were incredibly well written and acted, especially the mother character. One great example is the scene where she goes off on her son at the dinner table. At this point the mother is beginning a descent into madness, much like Jack Torrence in The Shinning. Unlike Jack, however, the mother’s rant is not so over the top and ridiculous that it becomes comedic. This was done intentionally in The Shinning, but I’ve found that movies will often have these overacted rants that will not be beneficial to the tone they’re trying to set. Hereditary managed to avoid doing this and kept it’s fight at the dinner table feeling very real and all the more unsettling.
The superb writing did not stop with the characters however. Though there were the usual horror movie tropes, such as seances and hauntings, they didn’t have the usual campy feel. One cause of this was the lack of unnecessary jump-scares. There were jump-scares of course, but they were used sparingly for purpose of the story, rather than scaring the audience, taking a backseat in that regard to the film’s visuals and unsettling atmosphere. SPOILERS: The scenes with the cup moving during the seance, or the times after Charlie’s death when her brother Peter would hear the clicking sound she would always make, show what I’m talking about. They’re jump-scares, but they’re not over top and serve a purpose to the story.
One other thing that amazed me about Hereditary was the amount of detail in it, which I would describe as almost Kubrickian. There are so many relevant things throughout the movie that can easily be missed (many of which I’m sure I did miss). Without giving away too much, there are a few things that I did catch and would advise looking out for. Near the beginning of the movie there is a scene with Peter sitting class. The scene focuses on Peter’s attention the the attractive girl in front of him and a text message conversation he is having with a friend. However, in the background, Peter’s class is having a conversation about the tragedy centered around a mythological hero (I can’t remember which one) who does not have control over his actions. I won’t say too much, other than that it helps explain, as well as foreshadow, event’s to come in the film. Also, if you look closely at some of the establishing shots of the house, you’ll notice that it is not really the house, but a diorama like those that the mother makes for her work. While I do have an interpretation for this, it would spoil ending for me to explain it, so I will just say to looking out for this and think about it while you watch the film. These were just a couple things that I noticed, but they show how much there is to look out for.
Whether you’re interested in film, or you’re a horror fan looking for a good scare, I highly recommend seeing Hereditary. Both gripping and terrifying, it is a movie you will not be able to stop watching, even though you might regret doing so later that night.