It's been quite a while since the last time I've been genuinely terrified of a horror movie. These days, horror movies are ridden with tired tropes, from teenagers with very questionable decision-making skills to jump scares where sharp, piercing sounds does most of the heavy lifting in trying to get a rise out of you. However, Ari Aster's debut film Hereditary finds itself delivering a satisfying 2 hours of mystery, tragedy, and outright terror.
Hereditary follows the Grahams, a family of four whose lives are changed forever after Ellen, the maternal grandmother of the family passes away. This sets in motion the terrifying fate that awaits them over the course of the film. What this film gets right is setting the tone of unease by establishing motifs as tiny clues as to what is going to happen to the Grahams. Unless you're an expert in the occult, a lot of these clues will go over your head. As the family starts to unravel the secrets that Ellen left for them to inherit, it gets from ominous to increasingly hopeless.
A large highlight of the film is Toni Collette performance as Annie Graham, the mother of the Grahams. She displays the epitome of the emotions associated with a family tragedy and how that can rot a family dynamic from the inside out in such a nuanced way. Her character mirrors that of Oedipus, echoing the act of desperately trying to change one's fate only to solidify it. Even her bloodcurdling screams through a few scenes channels absolute despair. Milly Shapiro, the young actress who plays Annie's daughter, Charlie also has a harrowing performance. From the very beginning of the film, you can tell that something is horribly off about her through her strange hobbies of making "dolls" and her mannerisms which is also tied to one of the biggest clues about the film's narrative. Her unfocused gaze into nothingness captures the audience's sense of unease masterfully.
The cinematography in Hereditary is what makes this film absolutely thrilling. Think about trying to fall asleep in your dark room, the shadows in the corners or looking toward the entrance of a pitch-black room. You feel that sense of vulnerability through the camera work in this film and without the auditory cues that most horror movies use a crutch only amplifies the feeling that makes your heart want to jump out of your chest. Visually Hereditary can go from being very bleak to absolutely shocking, on a level I haven't seen since The Exorcist.
If you're looking for a genuine scare and the experience of walking out of a theater utterly disturbed, Hereditary is a must-watch.