I’ll admit, I think the hype around Hereditary tainted my viewing experience. Coming out of Sundance earlier this year, it was hailed as the scariest movie in years, and I was told it would chill me to my very core. Exiting the screening, my core was the normal 98.6°F. No, Hereditary wasn’t the terrifying experience I anticipated. Was that disappointing? Perhaps a little, but the film is a beautiful exercise in atmosphere and style anchored by an excellent performance from Toni Collette. In his debut feature, writer and director Ari Aster crafts a taut family drama heady with a sense of dread.
The film centers around dual tragedies suffered by the Graham family that spur investigations into cryptic family secrets. Strip away the otherworldly elements, and you’re left with a narrative about the burdens of familial bonds and grief. A haunted house is an apt metaphor, but the ghostly goings-on serve more to break the tension than build it. It’s most effective in the film’s human moments (a visit to a bereavement group, a tense family dinner, a small breakdown at school). The guilt, anger and sorrow of the Grahams is painfully palpable; if only the film could find a supernatural counterpoint as viscerally impactful.
Should you see it? Yes, but if you’re looking for scares, recalibrate your expectations. —S.W.
Viewed at AMC Esquire 7