Hereditary [movie reaction]


I am writing this in the time of COVID-19. I just started a new job this March, but due to the worldwide pandemic, it's suspended at this time until next month. People are urged to stay at home to prevent the spread of the virus. We live in interesting times, right? Who'd have expected something like this to happen right now? It seems like something out of those zombie contagion movies. I hope that this will be over soon and life will go on as usual. 

While at home, I'm trying to blog, write, and catch up on books, movies, and TV series to kill time. For Day 1 of community quarantine, I rewatched Ari Aster's Midsommar [read my review]. For Day 2 (yesterday), I watched the same director's first film, Hereditary. 

Like Midsommar, one would think Hereditary is horror at the first impression. Hereditary is terrifying at times, but stripped of the horror elements it is a family drama dealing with grief, trauma, and mental illness.

Hereditary is about the Graham family. Annie is a miniature artist living with her husband Steve and two children: 16-year-old Peter and 13-year-old Charlie. The film opens with the funeral of Annie's mother, Ellen. In her speech, she describes her mother as a secretive and private person. Later, in a grief support group, Annie reveals the problematic history of her family and her relationship with her manipulative mother.

Charlie, the grandmother's favorite, seems to be the most affected by her death. Charlie is quite a strange girl, and her hobby is drawing weird things. While in school, she cuts off a dead bird's head. Strange people seem to watch her. Peter is like any typical teenage boy, concerned with girls, weed, and parties. One night, he goes to a party but lies to his mother about a school event. He takes Charlie with him at Annie's suggestion. However, the night ends with another tragedy as an accident happens to the siblings on their way home.

This adds another loss to Annie. I will not forget the screams of horror and grief of the mother in this movie when she learns about what happened. Losing a child is truly one of the scariest things a parent, especially a mother, has to deal with. For me, that's a lot more terrifying than any ghost or supernatural scare. This sours her already troubled relationship with her son Peter.

Annie meets Joan, a woman from the support group. Joan soon encourages her to try a spiritual seance to communicate with Charlie's spirit. This is where the movie veers more into the supernatural. Annie, still grief-stricken, also tries a ritual to communicate with the dead but the effect was different - it's as if she was awakening another spirit, not Charlie's.

Then Annie discovers something about her mother - the strange events in her family might not be by accident, but something planned to serve a demonic purpose. I'll stop my summary here before I give any more spoilers. Here's my thoughts about the movie:

Annie is a miniature artist, and she creates scale models of scenes inspired by her life. It's uncanny how the scenes in her art either predict the future or reveal something from the past. Her art is also her way of catharsis - she even makes a model of the accident scene.

As a viewer, the story lost its coherence when the supernatural/demonic aspect was introduced. It seems as if the family is controlled by forces beyond their control, and it destroys them.

Aside from that, the acting here is good. Toni Collette as Annie shined as a troubled mother and she had some unforgettable scenes here. Alex Wolff as Peter is also good, there are scenes that the terrible thing that happened wasn't shown but only Peter's face - and as a viewer, you can sense the complex and contradicting emotions he must feel. I adore Milly Shapiro as Charlie, she nailed the weird kid role so well.

There's a few jump scares, but I won't call the film scary. There's some haunting imagery, but the film is more unsettling emotionally.

Like Midsommar, women expressing their feelings in a raw and unapologetic way is so refreshing for a female viewer like me. The portrayal of grief and anger is unfiltered, and it's almost relieving to watch. For me though, Midsommar had stronger writing. I really look forward to Ari Aster's next film. I guess I'll be binging on horror movies while this quarantine lasts.

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