When you think about horror movies, naturally you picture dark rooms with shadows everywhere hiding the monster or killer. The atmosphere isn’t oppressive and you can see the killer or monster coming a mile away with jump scares. Now, not all horror movies do this, many forgo the traditional route of jump scares and over the top music and clever camera work. Atmosphere can be used in your favor if done properly without the jump scares. Properly done atmosphere can make you feel anxiety as you watch the film, coupled with the music in the background, it’ll leave you wondering what will happen next. Hereditary is one of these movies that properly uses its atmosphere, lack of much dialogue during key moments and use of darkened corners with barely shadowed people.
Hereditary stars Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro and Gabriel Byrne as the Graham family, suffering the loss of the family matriarch, Annie’s secretive mother Ellen. The film starts out slow, with the camera panning slowly towards a miniature model of a house. It zooms into a bedroom and we see Peter being awakened by his father mentioning Ellen’s funeral. We follow Peter’s father Steve where he goes outside to a tree house nearby, we see Annie sitting in the car uneasy. Steve goes up into a tree house to scold his daughter Charlie for staying in the freezing tree house. The scene quietly changes to the funeral where Annie speaks about how private her mother was, her voice providing voice over for the scene of mourners to pass by Ellen’s casket, including Charlie who had a closer relationship with Ellen. At one point we see a woman stop at Ellen’s body and wipe some kind of oil on her lips, Charlie watching as this woman does this.
From there on, things start to move slowly but more terribly as more and more terrible things happen to this family including the shocking death of Charlie. Slowly it seems like Annie is starting to lose her mind from the grief of constantly losing family members and everything that is happening to her. She starts to notice odd things happening and seeing things she swear aren’t there, including what she assumes to be her mother in the room she stayed in while she was dying before hospice. Annie admits that at one point she sleep-walked and nearly killed her children. She has a nightmare of a similar scene with Peter but we watch in grim mortification as Peter cries as Annie admits she never wanted him. The movie shows horror in another way, with showing us the downfall of this family.
Atmosphere plays a big role in this movie. It rarely relies on jump scares to scare us instead choosing to make us feel the same anxiety, horror and terror that Annie or Peter are feeling as they descend into madness. I honestly enjoyed this movie but holy shit this movie got really intense at scenes, so much so that I actually had to take a small break from this movie, a first with any movie. Toni Collette stars as Annie and I honestly never knew Toni Collette could be scary but there are several scenes where she’s downright terrifying, the scenes where you witness her character explode with emotion where you’re unsure what she’s going to do next and, in a way, it scares you.
This movie is slow but things happen at the very beginning of the film, we watch it through Charlie’s eyes until Charlie dies, then everything starts going straight to hell. This movie does atmosphere, trauma, and the snippets of horror right. I’d love to see Toni Collette in more horror movies she brings a much different face to horror. I would highly recommend this movie to others unless the sound of someone cutting their head off with piano wire is terrifying to them. There were very few problems I had with this film except the way that the husband Steve reacted most of the time. There was so much tragedy happening in his life and with his family that he remained aloof until towards the end when we see him crying and actually responding to everything that has happened, accusing Annie of digging up her mother’s grave. I question if the supernatural entity just couldn’t use him as he saw fit and needed someone of blood to Ellen Leigh or if he just wasn’t vulnerable enough. The film never answers these questions.
I will say give this movie a try, it’d be great for a rainy day. I give this film a five out of five for the amount of “what the fuck” I saw in it.