Evil Runs in the Family in 'Hereditary' (2018)/Written & Directed by Ari Aster
I love horror movies, but very few have genuinely disturbed and unsettled me. And even fewer have frightened me as much as Ari Aster's debut feature Hereditary (2018). The film follows Annie (Toni Collette), Steven (Gabriel Byrne), Peter (Alex Wolff) and Charlie Graham (Milly Shapiro) as they deal with the loss of Annie's estranged mother Ellen. Soon after, a great tragedy occurs, which sets off a chain of events that reveal unnerving secrets about the family's heritage.
Now, as someone with autism who uses his special interest in movies to help himself understand the world, when I first saw this movie, it resonated with me more deeply than any other horror film I'd seen. Back in 2018 when Hereditary was released in theaters, I was still struggling with depression, and while I won't give spoilers, the travails of the Grahams resonated with me deeply. When afflicted with a serious mental illness and/or facing great tragedy, it can feel as if you have zero control over your life, like there are outside forces strategizing to take you down. Ari Aster reflected that masterfully in his character-driven storytelling, Pawel Pogorzelski's cinematography, the slow-burn pacing by editors Jennifer Lame and Lucian Johnston. Colin Stetson's score also created a simmering, dreadful undercurrent to each scene, which added to the surprising amount of emotional authenticity.
The cherries on top of it all were the performances. Toni Collette, in particular, should've received a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her work, a career-best turn from one of our best actors. Throughout every scene, from the moment she showed up, I could tell this was a person with a lifetime's worth of anguish and pressure. The way she carried herself, the backstory, how Collette delivered her lines. An argument at the family dinner table ranks among my favorite scenes of all time. If you haven't seen the movie, just wait for that moment. You won't forget it.
Alex Wolff I found most personally relatable. While I couldn't identify with the specific trauma he experienced, every aspect of his physicality- his downbeat and dead-inside expressions, the zombie-like movement, the inability to think and live for the future- felt true to my experience with mental illness. As a result, once the over-the-top scares began to ramp up, I was already completely on-edge, panicked for the well-being of this guy. All of this made for an incredibly cathartic and terrifying experience.
Hereditary, soon after I saw it, quickly found its way to my number two spot for top five best films of the year. Even if you're typically trepidatious of horror movies, this is a rare case of a picture that is not only a great example of its genre, but a great movie, period. Definitely check it out, perhaps with the lights on. And if you're a die-hard horror fanatic and you've not gotten around to it, maybe this'll provide the push you need to finally give this a watch. I, for one, know that this has had an immeasurably positive impact on my life and mental health journey, and I couldn't thank Ari Aster enough for that.