It’s interesting what a movie can do to you. Last weekend, I saw the new horror film Hereditary. And when the lights came up, I felt just slightly underwhelmed. Like maybe I was missing something.
But over the days that followed, I found images from the movie flashing in front of my eyes, blipping in and out of my brain. Each night as I lay in bed trying to sleep, the last few scenes played over and over again in my mind. Without a doubt, Hereditary really dug its hooks into me.
This is a real horror movie. Not a by-the-numbers slasher movie, or a jump-scare parade, but a movie that is genuinely horrifying. It lives in the same universe as Rosemary’s Baby, Don’t Look Now, and The Exorcist. Or, if you want something a little more recent, 2015’s The Witch. These are all movies that people who want to seem tough say “aren’t scary,” but that’s really a completely wrong way to evaluate a horror movie. These movies dig down deep into your bones, they’re psychologically crushing, expertly crafted, and if you give them just the tiniest bit of thought, terribly frightening.
One thing Hereditary does very well is to depict the searing pain of extreme grief. Our ostensible hero, Toni Collette, and her family bear deep psychic scars from the loss they’ve experienced. And to the movie’s credit, much of it is spent exploring how they react to that grief rather than trying to fill time with supernatural scares. Now: The supernatural does come, and with a serious vengeance, but spending that time with the family and their pain shows us horror in many forms. It’s not just something that happens to us, but also something deep inside of us.
When we piece the movie’s events together—and we must, because Hereditary doesn’t do a lot of explaining— we find that what we’re seeing is the endgame of a story that’s developed over generations. It’s something the family has inherited. And their lack of control over the horrible places they’re headed may be the scariest thing of all.