Oh yes, inject this movie directly into my veins.
Hereditary has been a film that has consistently stuck with me ever since I saw it back in 2018. My then-girlfriend-now-fiancée said she could never watch it again. I saw it three times in theaters.
Hereditary is a curious creature. Its aesthetic and mood are familiar flavors to the horror genre, yet what director Ari Aster does with them transcends the film into an incredibly enthralling and unique stance on just what a horror film can be.
The film follows the Graham family, fresh off the heels of the death of the grandmother, Ellen. Annie, the matriarch of the family, has conflicted feelings on the passing of her mother, as the two were estranged for many years, creating an uneasiness with her children. Even in death, Annie is still haunted by her effects and worries that her relationship with her family will never be the same, fearing she could one day turn out like her mother. Things only get worse as the family experiences unrelenting grief and unrepairable distrust for one another. Oh yeah, and demons are involved.
The family drama is at the forefront of the story, which is one of the things I love about this movie. While many horror movies top priority is to scare, shock or disgust the viewer, Hereditary attempts to tell an engaging narrative first and foremost. The characters feel like actual people instead of the usual cliched cannon-fodder you can find in many lukewarm horror films. The emotions don’t feel forced or cheap either. There is genuine pain and torture emitting from some of these characters, and it doesn’t always need spooky shenanigans to trigger it. The conflict at its heart is about how we deal with grief and whether or not we can forgive. There’s the fear that we can’t escape the sins of those that came before us. The fear that there’s no going back. What’s done is done. It can’t be fixed. Hereditary isn’t just scary because of it’s disturbing imagery. It’s scary because when you remove the paranormal elements from the story, you’re still left with a whole lot of frightening emotions that we’d rather not talk about.
But let’s talk about that disturbing imagery.
Man, did this movie have some balls to do the things it did. While most of the scares in this film aren’t anything too out of the box, Hereditary has a few frames that will forever be etched into my brain. The film isn’t afraid to grab you by the head, pry open you eyelids a la A Clockwork Orange, and force you to take in all of its atrocities. If you’ve seen the film, you probably know what scene I’m referring to. What makes it so shocking and disturbing is that it comes out of nowhere, and there isn’t really any other scene like it in the film. Where other films attempt to overload its audience with copious amounts of blood and guts, Hereditary’s sparing use of it makes it all the more impactful. You don’t become numb or used to seeing here. It sticks with you well after the scene ends, and well after the movie is over.
While the film’s use of visceral imagery is few and far between, it’s still packed with some of the best scares I’ve experienced in a horror film. The use of shadows and darkness alone were enough to make me keep every light on in my apartment at night. You strain your eyes to find out if you’re really seeing what you think you’re seeing, and more often than not you wish you didn’t. There is so much hiding in the background that it took me a second viewing to catch most of it. It goes to show that you don’t always need a sharp violin or random percussion blast to make something scary.
The horror of this film could only work if it had tremendous performances to reflect off of, and I’m pleased to say Hereditary is such a case. Some of the standouts include Milly Shapiro, who portrays the Annie’s daughter, Charlie. Easily cementing herself in the halls of horrifying child performances with the likes of Regan from the The Exorcist and Damien from The Omen. There’s such a mysterious aura to Shapiro’s performance, and she’ll make you want to get up and run the next time you hear someone making a “pop” noise with their mouth. Portraying Charlie’s older brother Peter is Alex Wolff, who you may recognize as one-half of Nickelodeon’s musical act of the past, The Naked Brother’s Band. Wolff surprised the hell out of me with his emotional range and commitment to the scares (he actually broke his nose while filming a scene and took it in stride). He’s forging quite a path for himself as a serious actor, and I’m looking forward to his future work.
But if we’re going to talk about emotional performances, we can’t possibly ignore the powerhouse performance by Toni Collette as the matriarch of the Graham family, Annie. Good God. The way Collette contorts her face into these expressions of grief, horror and anger are unforgettable. It’s an almost unhinged performance that comes so close to being borderline over-the-top, but Collette knows when to reign it in and when to just go full force. I haven’t seen a performance as heart-wrenching and terrifying as hers in a very long time. The fact that she didn’t even get a nomination at the Academy Awards is a huge crime that I will one day find a way to seek legal action against.
Ari Aster is one of the most exciting voices of modern horror working today, and he’s right now batting 2-0 in the realm of engaging and enthralling horror cinema. While Hereditary at face value may seem like another possession/haunted house romp, there’s a level of detail and emotion to it that makes it stand amongst the rest of the genre and forces them to ask “what are we even doing?”. Hereditary is proof that you can scare the hell out of people without putting your story, characters and themes on the back-burner as a forethought. In my eyes, it’s a modern horror masterpiece, and I can only hope that it goes down in history as exactly that.
Charlie’s Peanut Butter Martini
Ah peanuts, the true evil behind Hereditary. Since peanuts are the catalyst for every bad thing that happens in this movie, I thought I would put them on display in this sweet, rich desert cocktail. If you’re a chocolate lover, you’re sure to fall head over telephone pole with this milkshake-like martini. Although it may taste like a shake, don’t forget there’s plenty of alcohol in this one, so don’t go losing your head over this one.
- 1 shot chocolate vodka
- 3/4 shot peanut butter whiskey
- 1/2 shot chocolate liqueur
- 1/4 shot of cream or half and half
- Chocolate syrup
- Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
- Drizzle the chocolate syrup into a martini glass. Store the glass in the fridge while you make the drink.
- Add your liquids to a shaker with ice.
- Shake for 20-30 seconds.
- Strain drink into the chilled martini glass.
- Garnish the drink with as many Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups as you’d like with a toothpick.