No matter how you look at it, this is one of the year’s very best horror films. It’s a stunningly bleak exploration of a family dealing with loss, and the way Ari Aster navigates his story of a deteriorating family like an absolute madman makes it hard to believe that this is his first feature film. Let me repeat that: Hereditary, a supremely twisted and unshakably terrifying film, is Aster’s first ever movie. I don’t know what kind of terrible nightmares swim through that dude’s head at night, but I’m certainly glad they do because ho-ly-shit. In it, after the family matriarch passes away, a grieving family is haunted by tragic and disturbing occurrences, and begin to unravel dark secrets.
What I found to be so great about Aster’s film is how he blends these two very different worlds together. The entire film is grounded in a family coming unhinged after a terrible tragedy, and it’s deeply unsettling because it feels so raw and real. The pain is so deep for Annie (played brilliantly by Toni Collette) that her own family brings her no comfort, so she looks for it in a complete stranger. That’s some real pain. Aster sets up this grounded reality just to tear it down in a way that’s so horrifying that it just as quickly becomes an otherworldly nightmare. Those two worlds—the natural colliding with the unnatural—meet in a violent storm of possession and demons. In other words, this movie is very much my kind of shit.
And then comes the final act. It’s here where all the pieces start falling into place, opening up the story in ways that will have the skin sliding right off of your bones. Not only has the tone and direction of its narrative completely shifted, but you start to see how it all connects to this much bigger idea that has been stirring since the moment the movie starts. It does pour it all on rather quickly—it covers a lot of ground in its final minutes, to say the least—but it also adds a layer of disorienting madness to the film that’s very fitting for what the family is going through. But let’s set the story and its weird, creepy cultist grandma aside because the real champion of this movie is its unnerving visuals. You know that relief you feel after waking up from a nightmare? This movie offers exactly none of that.
And that’s by far my favorite thing about Aster’s film—it not only looks like a nightmare, but it feels like one too. He takes familiar surroundings and bends them into these uncanny tools to torment you. It’s such a refreshing approach to horror because it’s so confident in its ability to scare the audience—there are many scenes where the “monster” stares directly at you from a dark corner of the room. And while that confidence doesn’t always pay off (a few moments didn’t quite land for me), it was fun as hell to watch; we need more movies like this that go for broke rather than hide behind cheap tropes and jump-scares. Although I feel like I still have a lot to unpack, I can confidently say that Hereditary is an absolute monster of a movie that if nothing else, has some of the scariest visuals of the modern horror era.