Hereditary review: When buried problems resurface

  • Hereditary (2018)

Profoundly affected by a history of dramatic family events, Annie never managed to release herself from the impact of an on-off relationship with her mother. After her funeral, Annie tries to regain her composure by returning to the ordinary life; she throws herself into her work and taking care of her children. But the grieving family doesn’t get much time to recover when a series of events put the sense of normalcy and stability to test.

hereditary review

Without relying solely on jump scares, Hereditary creates an unnerving atmosphere of suspense that keeps us at the edge of the seat consistently. Ari Aster handcrafts a structure, planning the narrative and visuals to the very last detail. The result is compact and economic – nothing can be spared here – but also strikingly expressive; everything we see contributes to the bigger picture. The elements fall into place as soon as they turn up on the silver screen, but never quite with the outcome we expect. There are occult books, diabolical dolls, demonic possessions, spiritual seances and satanic elderly ladies, all of them dropping hints and meddling with the surreal atmosphere set up within the very first minutes. Many a cryptic clue to the final resolution are introduced to the audience every time we dare to think we know the answer.

Hereditary tackles the troubled past that shapes our present, making the buried problems resurface (on many levels) when the main characters find ourselves reliving the patterns they are accustomed to. However, these never replay on the same level, keeping the theme at the core while managing to escalate to the new heights every time they repeat. Every time, the power structures in the family are dissected more closely, the superficial connections collapse to reveal loneliness, the new preoccupations and superficial cures unravel, the roles of the characters shift, but the story always stays one step ahead of our predictions.

Thematically, the film hints at the fixations that might flow in our blood, and successfully draws the parallels between three generations to get to the heart of the theory it presents the audience with. Annie might despise her mother’s ways, but the things she does are a close reflection of her parent’s behaviours: she imposes the strict rules on her own children, yearns to control every element of her creations, and spirals down into occult practices she used to loathe when they bring her solace. “I am your mother!” she cries as her son accuses her of lack of understanding and emotional support, erupting every time somebody dares to undermine her authority. Observing the relationship with her son Peter, we notice the same elements that marked the relationship of his mother and grandmother: the love that exists but never quite surfaces pitted against the constant struggle to be accepted, and outbursts of rage confronted by a dry, apathetic reassurance that never quite build trust between the pair.

We don’t get to pick our family, but can we try to break away from the habits and obsessions of those who we share our genes with? The film pays close attention to the psychology of the characters to take us into the world it builds while keeping score of the erratic actions of the people dealing with the weight of grief. The masterful performances contribute to that: Toni Colette is a force of nature; she swings from a vulnerable, traumatised woman in the support group to undistilled, untamed fury. Mastering the duality of her character who acts as a spine for her family but breaks down to the point of paralysis when nobody’s watching, she expresses a wealth of challenging extremes that strike us as an incredibly potent depiction of trauma. A notable performance from Alex Wolff – excellent also in My Friend Dahmer, which has only opened in cinemas a few days ago – showcases a teenager that inherits the emotional baggage early on. He tries to live like an adolescent would, forced to think like an adult in unusual circumstances while craving the emotional comfort like a lost child.

From the cinematography to editing, the visual side contributes to the atmosphere of sheer terror – not only by setting the mood but also by deceiving our senses constantly. The murky colour grading, the shots between night and day that switch with a snap, as if somebody turned the light on or off, the smooth transitions between Annie’s miniatures and the family home – all of these things keep us on the boundary of reality, supernatural and delusion, making us question our own perception and the perspectives brought to us by the characters. Completed with a nerve-wracking score and a very particular sound that repeats throughout the film, the suspicion is ever-present, even in the safest of spaces.

Hereditary creates a frightening experience that dedicates a lot of effort to staying well out of the beaten path. It’s dedicated to motives of people tangled in unexplainable events and well-versed in horror tropes, spinning them to its advantage and creating a mixture that’s unique in its approach and deeply memorable.

Hereditary premiered in the UK on during Sundance Film Festival London and will open on the 14th of June 2018.

Kasia Kwasniewska

Editor in Chief

Passionate about far too many things. Loves reading, watching films, eyeing (and producing) good design, listening to music and stuffing her face with chocolate on a daily basis. Cooks from time to time, and drinks far too much coffee to be a normal human being. Liked my work? Buy me a coffee!

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