‘Hereditary’ is expertly sculpted ode to slow-burning fear

June 16, 2018

Well, if you ever wondered what a Wes Anderson-directed horror film would look like, you'd be pretty close with "Hereditary," an expertly sculpted ode to slow-burning fear that is so textured I am still not convinced I agree with the conclusion others have drawn.

It opens on a funeral as Annie Graham (played by Toni Collette) eulogizes her mother, with whom she's had a tenuous relationship at best. The frayed bond has placed strain on her marriage with her husband Steve (played by Gabriel Byrne), and affected both her children: shy high-schooler Peter (played by Nat Wolff) and quirky, awkward Charlie (played by Milly Shapiro).

With mom gone, Annie hopes to return to her job as an artist (she's preparing for an upcoming gallery exhibit featuring detailed, handcrafted miniatures) and restore some normalcy to the family. Yet she's still plagued by the loss and finds herself seeking solace in a support group.

It is there that Annie opens up about her own troubled past and odd circumstances that seem to follow her family's history.

This all transpires in the film's first 20 minutes, and things don't get easier from there. This is also the point that I will cease describing plot details for those who like their cinematic experiences fresh with surprise.

There has been a lot of buzz surrounding "Hereditary" since its Sundance premiere, and there has been a wide disparity of reactions from filmgoers. That is to be expected, because it's certainly not a traditional "scare-from-the-shadows" horror flick, but more like a blending of possible supernatural elements within a family that is tearing apart at the seams.

It was written and directed by first-time feature filmmaker Ari Aster, whose unique craftsmanship is astonishingly assured and commanding.

Aster has a style and tempo not totally dissimilar to that of Anderson, if Anderson decided to ditch whimsy for wickedness.

There is much discussion online about exactly where "Hereditary" is pointed when it ultimately wraps, and while the film can be taken literally, its attention to the slightest of details leaves room for much interpretation and discussion. Many who enjoy formulaic scares may be frustrated with the ending, but those who enjoy its more subtle approach will find it creeping under the skin and burrowing in the mind for days.

That is the sign of effectively done horror.

  • Rob is the head of the English and Communications Department at Delaware Technical Community College, where he teaches film. He is also one of the founders of the Rehoboth Beach Film Society. Email him at

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