I Got It From My Mama: The Debate About “Hereditary”

Photo from sundance.org

When critics hail a film as “this generation’s exorcist,” horror movie junkies can be expected to line up outside their local theaters in anticipation of a truly terrifying movie-going experience. With Ari Aster’s “Hereditary,” one of the most talked-about movies of the summer, this wasn’t necessarily the case for all viewers. With an average critics’ review of 89% on Rotten Tomatoes and an average audience view of only 59%, the division between two mindsets is evident.

While this film was advertised to be utterly horrific, traumatizing audiences at Sundance Film Festival, the type of horror was advertised as well. Fans of big-budget horror like “Insidious” and “The Conjuring,” which are not necessarily reliant on jump scares but which certainly utilize them, may not believe that “Hereditary” lives up to its hype.

The story centers around a family in various stages and depths of grief for their elusive, partially estranged matriarch, whose death occurs before the events of the film. The horror in this film is almost purely psychological, and while disturbing visuals (one in particular) certainly play their part, the true horror lies in the quiet believability of the film’s events. 

While high-profile horror films like “The Purge,” set in alternate time frames or realities that differ fundamentally from our own, can be scary in the moment, the audience may leave the theater with the comfort that the film’s events simply do not line up with their own lives. In the case of “Hereditary,” however, the psychological horror associated with grief, family dynamics and the ability of individuals to protect his or her loved ones leaves the viewer with a feeling of realistic unease.

The most terrifying aspect in many viewers’ eyes is the performances. The family at the center of the film, namely Toni Collette and Alex Wolff, further help to make the events of the movie feel skin-crawlingly realistic with their unsettling and slowly building performances. They work beautifully with the film itself, which is reliant on a slow-mounting tension peppered with just enough harrowing moments to keep the audience engaged until the grand finale.

With a studio like A24, responsible for films like “The Witch” and “It Comes at Night,” a cliché approach to horror is the last thing to be expected. Both of these films received mixed reviews as well, and for similar reason: a divide in what people consider “scary.” But with films like “Lady Bird,” “The Florida Project,” and Oscar-winning “Moonlight” under their belts, A24 is a fast-rising force to be reckoned with, and fans and non-believers alike have likely not seen the last of their unique brand of psychological terror.


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