Hereditary

Hereditary ★★★★½

Terrifically layered film. Partly about the effects of grief—where we direct it, how it changes us—but also how family is often a curse that can lead to more pain. Siblings and partners as reminders of the things we have lost. You see your deceased mother’s eyes in your son, your daughter’s restrained worry and desire for order in your partner. Family can be a source of inspiration at rock bottom, but they can also be the catalysts for more pain and a longer, deeper journey down a destructive path, especially as their decisions and actions inadvertently cause more pain, as highlighted in the dinner scene with the argument between Annie and Peter. Are either of the two to blame for what happened earlier? Or was it an incident predetermined by fate? How does the past affect the present? The old saying goes that those who don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. But what about a past you know nothing about? What happens when it turns out people you love are monsters, and people you trust are liars?

Now, I don’t know if this is stretching a little, but I felt there were some alt-right connotations in this. The idea of heritage (people as ‘chosen’ above others), of continuing a bloodline, giving rise to a powerful being/idea from the past at the expense of the present. Discovering that people in your family actually believe in something heinous, and the ending (spoilers until the end of this paragraph) with everyone bowing down and proclaiming “heil Paimon” definitely gave off a very icky vibe. Many people seem to be down on the ending, but I liked it even if my theory here is off—there isn’t that much of a through-line to support this idea throughout the film, to be fair—but it certainly added an extra layer to the creepiness of the end.

I think the aspect I liked most though was the idea of the most destructive horror coming from inside, not out. We ourselves conjure up the darkest fear, with our neuroses, our self-sabotage, our vindictiveness. A family eats itself from the inside because their grief is such a powerful entity they’re unable to handle and accept, that it manifests, and breeds, gets under the fingernails and seeps into the walls. Somewhat connected to that, the film really highlights how the mundanity of horror can be so jarring, how it gestates until it feels less like horror at all, instead just an extension of your life. Peter simply driving home and laying down to sleep after that major incident about a third into the film hit home so much harder because of how life still went on. It was just like going to bed any other night, his head resting on the same pillow, making the same indent in the cotton, as if nothing had happened. Much the same when Annie is recounting the horrors of her past at the support group; the words come easy, and while she breaks down slightly, just listing off all that pain feels oddly matter-of-fact. It is now one with her.

I also like how Aster directs this, especially within the house. Interiors often shot from a bit of a distance that accentuates the empty spaces around the characters, but perhaps more importantly, the empty voids between them. It’s a lack of communication and trust that erodes the foundation and leads them all into oblivion. I think much of how you view this film depends on the kind of person you are. If you believe in fate, then the events of Hereditary were put into motion long ago and the Graham family were just pawns, like Annie’s models, in the middle of a cruel game. If you lean toward the other side, that people are in complete control of their own lives and decisions, then the family, and us, are destructive people with fragile minds who have and will continue to bring evil into this world, inadvertently or not.

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