Updated: Aug 19, 2020
By Shweta Deshpande
When Hereditary released in 2018, it divided audiences and critics alike. While some
hailed it as an Exorcist for a new generation, others found it trying too hard to be serious
and different. In an industry that is so saturated with horror movies that rely heavily on
Hereditary definitely deviates from the norm and is original in the way it
handles ‘horror’. To summarize the movie: when Ellen, the matriarch of the Graham family,
passes away, her daughter’s family begins to unravel cryptic and increasingly terrifying
secrets about their ancestry. The more they discover, the more they find themselves trying
to outrun the sinister fate they seem to have inherited.
It’s definitely a slow-burn but the pacing is deliberate and once it picks up, the last 30
minutes are well worth it. The plot involves secret rituals, cults, seances, demon worship
and possession; fairly standard horror movie fare, but the approach it takes is unique and
unnerving. Without giving too much away, there are certain elements in the film like
Charlie decapitating a pigeon, the mother’s miniature figurines, Peter’s classroom scene,
that all make it a deeply disturbing watch.
The direction, editing and score are all brilliant; the sinister low-pitched sound element
throughout the film keeps you on edge. Toni Collette in the lead as Annie Graham, with
her grief and anger-stricken face, is scarily powerful. Milly Shapiro and Alex Wolff also
deliver stunning performances as Charlie and Peter Wolff respectively, both unreachable
and yet extremely vulnerable characters. The complex character development and family
dynamics keep you hooked.
Even though this review may seem biased since I’m partial to psychological horror, I do
feel like it could’ve been a little tighter and well-paced. Hereditary mostly succeeds in
breaking away from traditional notions of what a horror film should be like. However, at
one point it ends up resorting to typical gimmicks which can either serve as a great
juxtaposition or just disappoint those looking for a more consistently sophisticated
psychological horror flick. There are a few scenes that end up being unintentionally
hilarious. Without spoiling anything, you could say the ending is unexpected and
potentially confusing; it may seem intelligent to some and unoriginal to others. Personally, I found the last act slightly disappointing, as it fails to stick by the ‘show, don’t tell’ rule that
the film has followed so far. Without the explanation at the end, which may seem too overt,
the movie falls a bit flat and the convoluted plot seems pointless.
Overall it’s a good movie to watch by yourself if you’re into psychological thrillers or
It’s the kind of film you get immersed in and probably not the best pick for a casual watch with friends; the more attention you pay to the nuances the better the pay-off. Having watched it with no prior knowledge whatsoever, I found the film really engaging, so the less you know about the film the better. Go in with an open mind and don’t get swayed by the hype or critical acclaim, or by people who found it too bland as compared to traditional horror.
This film evokes very visceral human terror in a way that jump-scares cannot; it lingers
long after the movie is over. As the New Yorker’s review of the film said,
“There is no family curse in this remarkable movie. The family is the curse.”