Note: this post is spoiler-free, so dive on in!
It's the horror movie you've been hearing about all year. Hereditary freaked everyone out at the Sundance Film Festival, and it hasn't slowed down since. Even the trailers are enough to send a chill down your spine. And with a rather compelling story on paper, we're sure you're more intrigued than ever. Now that the film is about to head into theaters for public consumption, we're sure horror fans and horror wimps alike are all wondering the same thing: how scary, exactly, is it? We're giving you our spoiler-free assessment of the twists, turns, and terrors Hereditary contains.
Before we dive in, let's cover the background information. We know that Annie Graham (Toni Collette) loses her mother at the beginning of the film. It's clear that this family has a history of mental issues, and with her mother gone, Annie begins to unravel in her own small ways. Slowly, over the course of the film, Annie and the rest of the family seem to lose their grip on reality. This uncertainty and insanity build until we reach a truly disturbing conclusion.
When I say there's a slow build in this film, I mean there's a slow build. In fact, the entire first half of the film is pretty quiet and mostly uneventful. There are a couple of shocking moments, and there's one very jarring and violent sequence, but on the whole, it's pretty tame. In fact, I spent most of this portion trying to figure out what kind of horror film I was watching. Is it a supernatural story? Are there ghosts and demons involved? Are all of the events just manifestations of Mom's crazy mind? This vagueness is actually what keeps you on guard and on the edge of your seat at first.
To be clear, this mysterious aspect of the film keeps you guessing until the last scene. Just when you think you've figured out what's going on, the plot takes another sharp turn. Finally, before we fade to black, we get the full scope of everything that has happened over the course of the past two hours. And even then, there are still some unanswered question.
Slowly, with each new scene, the tension and uneasiness stack in layers. There is really a turning point where everything kicks in, and all the pieces of the puzzle start to come together. The second half of the film is incredibly unsettling; a lot of sequences will make you grip your armrest, and the film does not shy away from violent moments. When it comes to body horror, Hereditary puts the gore right in front of your face and does not pan away.
Is Hereditary scary? Scary isn't the word I would use. This isn't the kind of film that will make your heart pound, and you won't be too scared to go to sleep. At the same time, it's very disturbing. So disturbing, in fact, that I was practically numbed out by all the distressing things that happen. It'll definitely stay with you. It's not an unpleasant experience to watch. I'd liken it to films like The Witch, Shutter Island, and Black Swan. They're just difficult to bear witness to, but they're not necessarily bad films.
Hereditary won't have you looking over your shoulder or glancing at shadows. But there are certainly some things you won't be able to unsee, things that will be burned into your brain for a long time. If you think you can handle it, godspeed!