PLOT - After a family's matriarch passes away, a grieving family is haunted by disturbing and tragic occurrences, and begin to unravel dark secrets.
LOWDOWN - Way back in February, when I took several of my co-workers to go see Winchester for the second time, a new trailer played before hand the movie. Instantly I became interested, as the film was hyping up the fact that it was as scary as The Exorcist, and the last clips that played on the big screen flashed visually stunning moments that felt me unsettled. My co-worker leaned in to me and whispered after the trailer had finished "That looks way too fucking scary." With a grin, I whispered back... "So that means, you want to see it as soon as it comes out." After that in the weeks and months following, I forgot about the movie.
Until a few weeks ago.
Hereditary was getting a wider release, and was brought to us by the same production company that gave us such beautiful and terrifying films like The Witch, and It Comes At Night. In the last ten or so years independent horror yet again found it's own footing, and some truly wonderful projects have remain underrated have been released. About 2 weeks ago a friend and I decided to go check it out late one Thursday night. The only spoiler we had heard was that the young daughter's head somehow gets cut off. To some that's a major spoiler, but to me I just figured there was some gross out decapitation since I went in thinking this was going to be your regular straight out horror movie.
Boy was I wrong...
After leaving the theater, I was able to say that I witnessed wasn't a straight up horror movie with tons of gore, and jump scares. No, what Hereditary is...it's a smartly written psychological supernatural thriller. What my friend Sean called it was a "Thinking man's horror film." This was a beautiful, and quite disturbing piece on grief and how people handle different types of it. We've all been there before, when a distant family member who we didn't get along with, or felt close with passes. Sometimes it doesn't even need to be a distant family member...maybe it's from a toxic relationship that felt strained and as horrible as you feel, it's relief that's flowing through you instead of sadness. Sometimes you just don't feel sad at all. I love how Annie returns from her mother's funeral and turns towards her husband and asks him if it's wrong she doesn't feel sad? He replies that she can fell whatever way she wants. Even when Steve (the husband) checks in on their teenage son and asks their teenage son Peter if he feels sad over his grandmother's passing, who is said to have lived with them in the last years of her life when she became quite ill. Clearly not having been close with her, he just sorta shrugs, not knowing how to answer this. Steve laughs and nods saying he knows. Sometimes a passing of somebody we know or even a family member isn't a tragedy. Sometimes you just aren't that close to that person despite the relationship, and maybe after a strained time together, or a long illness it's just sorta a relief. I liked how Annie goes to a grief counseling meeting, and opens up about her past relationship with her mother. Earlier at her funeral, she remarks what a complicated relationship they had, and how she's surprised to see so many new faces at her mother's funeral since she was extremely distant to everyone. At the grief meeting, she opens up about what a dark and disturbing history she had with her mother. It's mentioned earlier that Annie's youngest daughter Charlie was her mother's favorite. That she used to insist on breast feeding her daughter when she was a baby (Um, what?) and how when she had her son, she was estranged to her mother (after the disturbing deaths of both her father and brother) The two hadn't spoken for years, and she forbid her mother to come around her newborn son. Finally after years of distance, the two agreed to patch up their broken relationship (her mother suffered from personality disorders, and the details of her father and brother's deaths were VERY disturbing) Here she remarks that she regrets allowing her mother to move in since it appeared that she got her "hooks" into Charlie her daughter. Very settle things are shown and mentioned in the first twenty or so minutes of this film. There are strange words and symbols written on the bedroom walls of Charlie's room, symbols that match the same necklaces Annie wears at her mother's funeral, as well as the same exact necklace her mother is buried in.
Charlie in fact is a very interesting character. When I first saw trailers of Hereditary I wondered what was wrong with the daughter. Her facial structure seemed "off" and this is no slander towards the VERY talented actress who played her. I like that instead of casting some adorable little pre-teen we showed a young girl that seemed just a little "off" and a little different. How she may be slightly mentally slow. The little tick of hers of "clucking" with her tongue. How she's a tomboy and remarks that her grandmother always wished she was a boy. How she seems to have some speech delays, and is constantly wearing this baggy orange sweatshirt, and snacks on candy bars, and makes these really fucking weird toys that are both disturbing, as well as interesting. Made with real animal parts, metal, and string. Clearly something isn't right with Charlie, but you feel bad for her and can relate at being that awkward age, and really not knowing what to do with yourself.
The relationship with Annie and her eldest son Peter is great. Love that even before any of this stuff begins to happen, there's tension between the two of them. It's more than just attitude between a mother and her teenage moody son...there's more. It seems as if every word they speak to each other is filled with tension. Of course as the film goes on we discover the source behind why their relationship is portrayed this way. I loved how Annie insists on Peter taking his younger sister with him to what he claims is a school cookout (In reality it's a party, where he's planning on trying to hook up with his school crush, and smoke lots of pot) Wanting Charlie to get out more and hang with other kids her own age, she insists that she goes with her brother. Here they arrive at a friend's house with is packed with partying teens. Peter ditches his sister to go smoke pot with his crush, but tells his sister to grab a slice of cake while she waits for him. It's revealed early on that Charlie is highly allergic to nuts, and the same knife that's being used to slice the cake was seen moments before chopping nuts (Why somebody was chopping that many nuts at a teenage party is beyond me, but I'm not questioning it!) Charlie takes a slice of cake, and instantly you see her trying to swallow as the allergic reaction begins. As somebody who's very allergic to blueberries this scene really freaked me out. I felt awful watching her as she struggles to breath. Going to her brother, her face swelling, and barley able to breath, Peter carries her out of the party, places her in the backseat, and speeds away towards the hospital.
This is where Hereditary took a left turn and will be remembered for straying away from the typical storytelling form, and became a terrifying realistic drama. While Charlie claws at her throat in the backseat, struggling to breath, Peter pushes 80 in the car, speeding down a back highway towards the hospital. That's when he sees a deer in the road and swerves to avoid hitting it. At that exact moment Charlie rolled down her window, and sticks her head out trying to get more air. Just as this happens, the car swerves and goes very close to a telephone pole. Charlie's head whacks into it, and off her head goes.
Peter slams on the breaks and sits in silence. We as an audience are completely stunned like him. This all happened so fast, and now we're in silence. Peter is still gripping the wheel, staring ahead. He can't even bring himself to look in the rearview mirror, knowing he just accidentally killed his younger sister. He sits there, staring ahead in shock. He even mutters softly "You're okay..." before slowly taking his foot off the break, and driving forward. He returns home, his dead sister's body hanging half in, half out of the car window. He parks, and goes into his house in a trance. He hears his parents in bed for the night say "Good, they're home." as he goes into bed and climbs into bed. Lots of people questioned this, asking why did he just go home and not tell his parents? Why leave the scene of the accident? Lot's of people including the director state because he was in shock. He's a seventeen year old kid with the weight of the world on his shoulders knowing he just accidentally killed his sister. Maybe he wanted his parents to have one last night before the truth of this tragedy set it, or maybe he just wanted to crawl into bed and wake up from this nightmare. Whatever the reason is, the way they filmed the morning after with just a tight close up of Peter's face, as you hear Annie leave the house to run errands, before her blood curlding scream is heard downstairs. Here I found the director making the brilliant choice in not showing the horrific aftermath, but instead relying on the wonderful Toni Collette's acting. Seconds later, we jump to a later scene where Annie is on all fours, dry heaving, screaming, and sobbing as her husband tries to comfort her. I'm not a parent, but I could only imagine the horrifying gut wrenching pain a parent goes through when they suffer a loss like this, let alone one so brutal. I've lost loved ones before, some I haven't fully gotten over, and seeing someone grieve like this spoke volumes. It wasn't over the top, or cheesy. It was gritty, uncomfortable, and very realistic. Moments later the audience gets to see Charlie's mangled head left on the side of the highway the next morning. A bloody pulp, covered in ants. This is an image that I know stuck with many viewers. Nobody wants to see the head of a young girl, let alone rotting in the sunlight, covered in bugs. Yet here it is. Grief and death isn't this pretty little thing. It's ugly, and tragic. This was a very realistic view.
Afterwards we watch this family in the weeks following trying to cope, let alone move on. Annie begins sleeping in her daughter's treehouse with heaters, trying to find any form of comfort to be close to the daughter she suddenly lost. She begins to ignore her work (which were super cool miniature work. I've seen pieces like this before, but the attention to detail is completely insane. One of the coolest shots has to be the opening where it transforms to the house the family lives in, zooming into Peter's room to the actual real house. The cinematography in this film was very beautiful, as were the visual and practical effects. Here we get to see how does a family cope with this horrible loss? Peter of course is haunted by what happened, as well as the guilt eating away at him. Once a carefree stoner, he now is thrusted into this horrible empty lonely world. I loved the scene of him smoking pot with his buddies and suddenly having a panic attack. Things that were once fun aren't anymore. This really hit the nail on the head for me, as well as him trying to build the courage to enter his house after he dumps his bike with Annie just watching/glaring from her car.
One of the most uncomfortable scenes has to be a dinner scene following where you can tell everything the son is doing is annoying Annie, right down to how he's eating. Peter senses this and begs him mother to just get off her chest how she feels and here one of the best acted scenes I've seen nearly all year is played out. When I saw this, everyone and I mean everyone in the theater was silent. My heart broke for these characters as the husband Steve tries his best to be the buffer and keep the peace.
Without really going into a play by play on the each scene, we basically follow Annie as he befriends a woman from the grief group. She lost her grandson and I believe son nearly a year before, and becomes a source of comfort to Annie to explains how horrible it was discovering her daughter's body, and the history behind the tension that's been building between Peter and her. It seems that years ago when Peter and Charlie shared a room. Annie had trouble with sleepwalking and woke up to finding herself spraying paint thinner all over her children, and a box of matches in her hand. Peter woke up terrified of course, and all these years later things haven't been the same despite how much Annie tried to explain that wasn't her, that she was sleeping and completely unaware of what she was doing. Shortly after, her friend invites her over, excited over something that's just happened. It seems she met with a medium, who taught her how to contact her lost loved ones. She shows this to Annie, who of course is completely freaked out. Her friend urges her to try to do so, reciting the same chant she did, and using something that connects back to her daughter (an object of some sort) to make contact and find comfort that she's crossed over. Annie at first is uneasy, but decides to try one night. Thrilled that she actually made contact, she wakes Peter and Steve up and shows them. Quickly this little experiment becomes out of control, and instantly Annie knows something isn't right.
In the events that follow, we see that this was in fact all a trap for Annie to think she was contacting her daughter's spirit, where actually she was awakening a demon that her mother, and other fellow cult members worshiped for years. It seems that this demon preferred a male host, and had entered Charlie before she was born, knowing that this wasn't quite the right vessel. We watch as Annie discovers these terrifying secrets that mother hid, and how this demon is trying to enter her son who believes he's losing his mind. The third act goes at lighting speed as everything reaches a head.
Without really spoiling the entire end, all I have to say this bravo to this director. Instead of relying on jump scares, he focused on moments that made you uneasy and uncomfortable. Some of the best have to be when a character thinks they see someone standing in the shadows. One of the most affective had to be when Annie thinks she sees her mother after going through her things. Or the famous "cluck" moment that actually made me jump. The last act is bat shit crazy, but one moment that truly stuck out for me had to me when Peter locks himself in the attic, crying for his mother when he hears something and looks up. I won't say who he sees, or what they are doing...but the look on that person's face is why I've been sleeping with my light on the last few weeks. No joke.
I found the ending over the top but in a good way. The music was beautiful, and all of the visuals very terrifying. One character's beautiful soothing voice narrates what's happening, and I gotta say, it really packed a punch for me. This was a wonderful beautiful piece on grief, and really was a stand out film for sure. I'll say it, and I'll say it again. Mohawk, Hereditary, and Winchester were the best movies I've seen so far this year.
Hereditary will be a hard act to follow for sure.