In an industry that identifies films dripping with gore as horror, it’s been difficult for scary movie buffs to find a solid horror flick that doesn’t merely offer us a gore fest filled with blood, torture, and masked serial killers.
Many have tried—in the last year, we’ve gotten IT, Annabelle: Creation, and A Quiet Place (just to name a few)—but only a few have managed to deliver on both story and scares. Hereditary ventures where few films dare to go, and it takes audiences on a wild ride filled with compelling characters, beautiful cinematography, clever scares, and a disturbing story.
Hereditary tells the story of the Graham family who begins to be haunted after the death of their very secretive and reclusive grandmother. It’s a simple enough story and yet the acting by Toni Collette as Annie, and the use of music and sound effects is what really makes this film as terrifying as viewers are claiming it to be.
This film does an incredible job with its cast. There are really only five characters in the entire story–the Graham family, which consists of Annie, Steve, Peter, and Charlie and Annie’s new friend, Joan. That is truly the best way to go about telling a story like this. Any time with horror, you want an isolated location and a tiny cast to add to that sense of isolation, and that is precisely what Hereditary does. The film introduces Milly Shapiro as Charlie, Annie and Steve’s daughter, and she knocks it out of the park playing the resident creepy kid (come on, every horror movie needs a creepy kid!). Charlie is a reclusive teenager (much like her grandmother), and she spends much of her time drawing and clicking her tongue… two things that the writers use to add to the terror of the film. Shapiro originated the role of Matilda Wormwood in the Broadway musical, Matilda, but this is her first time appearing on the big screen, and she does not disappoint. Being soft-spoken and used mostly to stand back and make people feel uncomfortable, the character of Charlie is a pivotal player in the story of Hereditary and Shapiro is absolutely chilling to watch.
The film is led by the great Toni Collette as mother and doll maker (again, no good horror movie would be complete without some dolls thrown in), and as always she is stunning to watch. She’s been in dozens of films over the years (my personal favorite being Connie & Carla), and she was made to be the leading lady in a horror film. The way you watch her character spiral out of control from the calm, cool, and collected daughter at her mother’s funeral to the wild maniac trying to save her family from the forces of evil is both disturbing to watch and beautiful. There are several scenes in this film that could be considered shining moments in Collette’s career and I’m going to be genuinely disappointed if she isn’t at least nominated for an Academy Award for her performance as Annie.
If I could say there was anything weak about this movie, it would be the plot as a whole. The film opens with a funeral and a family trying to process death, and for some time, it is the character of Annie trying to unravel the mystery that is her mother. Then at the end of “Act 1,” we have a twist that is both unexpected but perfect for the story, and we have a little bit of time with Annie opening up to the idea of psychics and speaking to the dead throughout “Act 2.” Unfortunately, “Act 3” is where they really lost me. For the last 20 minutes, it felt as if no one really knew how they wanted to end the film and so they just kept adding in a few more twists and plot points to try to find a solid ending. Unfortunately, I found the ending to be confusing and somewhat jarring, but at least it wasn’t a happily ever after sort of ending. That is always the downfall of horror films—if we get survivors, things explained to us, or it was all just a misunderstanding. No one goes to see a horror movie to have everything tied up into a nice little bow for us, and Hereditary kept that in mind as they were telling this story.
The one thing that Hereditary did perfectly is its scare tactics. With critics calling it “terrifying” and “this generation’s Exorcist,” one would expect it to be dripping with frightening imagery, jump scares, a terrifying soundtrack, and a monster that is beyond anything we’ve ever seen before. Well…yes and no. It is nowhere near as scary as I expected it to be, and that’s okay. I
think if it had a lot of the tropes that most horror films fall victim to, it would not be the same movie and I don’t think it would be nearly as good as it is. The thing that really stood out to me the most when it came to what made this film as scary as it was is the soundtrack. The music played heavily into why this film is such a success at telling a scary story. The music is disturbing and even annoying at times to make you feel uneasy. Charlie’s drawing and tick are used time and time again to set the audience and the characters on edge. Flies buzzing, incantations being whispered… everything is used subtly to frighten you. There are never any “jump scares” and no screech in the music designed to make you jump. All of the sound effects are meticulously placed, and something as simple as that is what made this movie such a hit for me.
This horror film is intelligent. Every single thing—from the people you meet, the images you see, and the sounds that you hear—are all specially chosen to heighten the sense of fear and paranoia. The acting by every single person in the cast is the driving force of the story, making the characters likable and even relatable as they try to go through trauma as well as a haunting. This is definitely a film you’ll want to see twice to notice all the foreshadowing. The film is heartbreaking and feels so real while also being one of the more disturbing movies I’ve seen in awhile, delivering on the scares and (necessary) gore.
+ Toni Collette. Just Toni Collette
+ Milly Shapiro’s introduction as Charlie
+ The use of audio and visual effects to deliver on the scares
+ Disturbing imagery
— The story felt disjointed at some points
— The ending was a bit muddled and confusing
Amanda Woomer-Limpert is a contributor for The Geekiverse. She is a former Disney Cast Member slightly obsessed with cats, beards, Star Wars, and all things Disney!