Hereditary (2018)

“…I just sometimes feel like it’s all ruined. And then I realize that I am to blame. Or not that I’m to blame, but…I am blamed” – Toni Collette, Hereditary (2018)

*major spoilers ahead

*Content warning: This post discusses traumatic circumstances that may distress some readers

I thought I would be lucky to experience a game-changing horror film in its time. When I finally felt brave enough to watch Hereditary, I knew that experience had happened. Not only is Hereditary a truly terrifying film, but it is also daring and original in ways audiences had never seen before.

Sorry, not sorry for the lengthy summary section:

The film opens on the obituary for Annie’s mother. Annie Graham (Toni Collette) is an artist who specializes in miniature dioramas. After the film opens on a diorama of the Graham family’s house, the rest of the family is introduced: Steve, Annie’s husband; Peter, their teenage son; Charlie, their younger teenage daughter. Despite the strained relationship with the grandmother, the family do their best to move on after the funeral. Annie attends group grief counseling without telling her family to avoid putting further stress on them.

One night, Peter (Alex Wolff) asks his mother if he can borrow one of the cars. When he says he is going to a party with some other teenagers from school, Annie pressures Charlie (Milly Shapiro) to go with him. Not wanting his mother to be suspicious of the real nature of the party, Peter agrees to take his sister. At the party, Charlie eats a piece of cake that contains nuts (it is revealed earlier in the story that she has nut allergies). She tries to find Peter in the strange house and call his phone, but he ignores her calls while smoking marijuana with some friends and his crush in one of the bedrooms. When Charlie finds him, she is swollen and wheezing from the allergic reaction.

Peter carries Charlie to the car and speeds to the nearest hospital. As Charlie gasps for air in the backseat, Peter pushes the old car to its limit to close the distance between them and the hospital. Charlie opens a window and sticks her head out into the night air. Peter swerves to avoid a dead deer in the middle of the road. A telephone pole sits on the side of the road when Peter swerves back into the lane. Charlie’s head collides with the pole, which decapitates her. Peter abruptly stops the car and sits in shock as he realizes what has happened. Eventually, he drives away slowly into the night. He is next shown parking in front of the house and walking to his bedroom. It is implied that Peter does not sleep the entire night. It is only in the next morning, when the viewer hears Annie’s screams from outside, that it is clear that Peter left Charlie’s body in the car.

Following the devastation of Charlie’s death, the family’s ties strain further apart. Annie dives into her work and avoids interacting with Peter. She returns to group therapy and meets Joan, an older woman who attends the group to cope with the death of her son and grandson. She invites Annie to come to her home and talk privately, which Annie eventually accepts. The tension between Annie and Peter finally erupts (see video below), officially putting their perspectives on the accident into view.

Warning: Intense language

Annie encounters Joan outside an art supplies store later on. Joan shares that she has recently experienced a séance, where she learned to communicate with her deceased grandson. After reluctantly agreeing to see Joan perform a séance, Annie desperately uses her newfound abilities to reach out to Charlie. Steve and Peter are pulled into Annie’s obsession, and they are immediately horrified. She is soon on her own again after exposing her family to more disturbances. Annie soon finds that her mother was affiliated with something dark, and the rest of the family unwillingly become a part of it.

In the group therapy scene, Annie shares her family’s lineage of severe mental illness. She does so to explain that her mother had a hard life, and that made their toxic relationship even harder for her to process. She admits that she fears putting her own family through more trauma. This scene also serves to lay a foundation for the root of this story’s particular horror: intergenerational trauma. Annie tries to break the cycle and protect her children from the pain she experienced growing up with her mother. What is done in such a devastating and poetic way in this movie is no matter how much she tries to do this and turn her family in a better direction, more tragedies and pitfalls pull them back.

I do not think I will ever be able to watch Hereditary and not feel something. It represents a new age of horror, where the horrors of real life and tangled traumas prove to be far scarier and more powerful than something supernatural. On top of being genuinely terrifying and engaging, it is also beautifully made. From the role of art in the story, scenic production design, glowing cinematography, and stunning acting performances, Hereditary is an immersive horror experience that one cannot help but watch more than once. It is just as devastating every time, but it is also just as enthralling.

Until next time,


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