On Monday night I saw Hereditary at the Goodrich Savoy 16 theater, alone except for the smattering of fellow twenty-somethings behind me and the lone elderly pair two rows ahead.
Having loved A24’s previous horror films The Witch and It Comes at Night (no, I haven’t yet seen Green Room, The Monster, The Blackcoat’s Daughter, or The Killing of a Sacred Deer, but all four are high on my watch list), I’d been looking forward to Hereditary since seeing the trailer in late January/early February. As the release date neared and the buzz intensified, my excitement grew and I talked more and more about it to my girlfriend, who generally doesn’t enjoy horror films.
Having been unceasingly busy with moving and other obligations for over a week, we decided to go to the movies on Monday to give ourselves a bit of a break. I wanted to see Hereditary. She wanted to see Ocean’s 8. We both sort of wanted to see the new drama Disobedience. Ultimately we decided to embrace our inner septuagenarian married couple, as my girlfriend might say, and go together to see separate movies. We ran a few quick after-work errands, got dinner at the nearby Dairy Queen, and bought our respective tickets. Hereditary is almost twenty minutes longer than Ocean’s 8, so I went to a 7:20 show and she went to a 7:30 show, hoping we would emerge within a few minutes of each other.
I settled into my seat with a small root beer (no ice) and a box of Cookie Dough Bites, and rolled my eyes through the trailer for the god-awful-looking Unfriended: Dark Web before the familiar A24 logo appeared onscreen and the film began.
Before tonight I’d watched the initial Hereditary trailer a couple of times, and read a small handful of brief, spoiler-free reviews, but otherwise I’d made it a point to go in with as little information as possible. All I knew was that the film seemed to revolve around a deceased reclusive grandmother and her creepy granddaughter, with Toni Collette suffering some sort of emotional breakdown in the middle of it all.
I expected a very good but more-or-less standard haunted house/haunted family movie. I expected Grandma’s Ghost and/or Creepy Kid to serve as the primary horror element(s), but with those stock characters enriched by the upsetting imagery and powerful performances glimpsed in the trailer. I expected to be mildly disturbed and highly entertained. No more, no less.
I got more.
I got genuine (jump-scare-free) shocks, harrowing emotional moments, squirming-in-my-seat unease, and wide-eyed, hand-over-my-mouth horror.
Sometimes I almost kind of hate seeing new movies in the theater, especially horror movies, because I’m hyper-sensitive to the whispering and texting and giggling of other moviegoers. There’s always somebody who laughs or groans or overreacts at just the wrong time, or even worse carries on conversation throughout entire scenes. I’d braced myself for this going into Hereditary, hoping it would be minimal and determined to ignore all but the worst infractions. A few people behind me did chuckle at several points in the film, but rather than annoyance I felt relief to remember where I was and that, to paraphrase the tagline of The Last House on the Left, it was only a movie.
Afterwards, I sat through about half of the credits before I remembered that my girlfriend was probably waiting for me in the lobby and went out. I emerged with my heart still pounding, and proceeded to babble about the movie to her for the rest of the night. At home I found myself peeking warily at dark corners and shadowed rooms until I was able to fall asleep. Even last night, more than twenty-four hours later, I found myself eyeing the half-closed closet door with unreasoning dread.
The most effective horror films make you afraid of the dark like you were as a child. Lars von Trier’s Antichrist did that for me when I saw it in 2011, and The Witch did it again in 2016 (much to my girlfriend’s chagrin). Now there’s Hereditary, fairly aptly being called the Rosemary’s Baby of 2018. Like Alex Garland’s Annihilation adaptation, it’s not perfect, but the more I think about it, the more I love it. As was the case with Robert Eggers, Ari Aster’s first feature is a real masterpiece, and I look forward to his next project.
So go see Hereditary, but don’t expect “fun” scares or a cathartic ending like in the recent It or A Quiet Place. This is not a feel-good film. But then, at least in horror, the best ones rarely are.