In this age of consolidation, serialization, and franchising of films, horror remains one of the last bastions of creativity and independence. Horror films don’t typically get big budgets. Small budgets are, in themselves, a way for filmmakers to guarantee themselves some independence from the financiers. If your budget is small to begin with, the people who are giving you that money are less likely to want to interfere with your creative process. At the same time, working with a limited budget is one of the key drivers of creativity: how can we create the reaction we want without spending a ton of money?
This has been true across the horror genre. “It Follows,” “The Babadook,” and “The Purge” are only some of the most recent examples. “Hereditary” is a worthy successor to them, a perfect example of how a filmmaker can create suspense, thrills, and fright working with minimal resources.
In “Hereditary,” we meet a seemingly normal family dealing with a recent death. Annie (Toni Collette) just lost her mother. Her husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) and son Peter (Alex Wolff) are unsure about how to support Annie, and Annie doesn’t know how to feel about her mother’s passing. Annie doesn’t get much time to reflect about her relationship with her mom, however, as the death starts a chain of events that sees unspeakable tragedy befall Annie and her family. Annie quickly finds herself seeking solace in the realm of the supernatural, and things quickly go from bad to worse.
“Hereditary” is the rare indie film that manages to cross over into a wider audience. The film is a slow burn – the type of movie that relies on strong character development and a well-constructed narrative – but never sacrifices audience engagement. The movie uses predictable tropes in unpredictable ways and manages to catch us off guard, bringing surprises that both shock us and keep us connected to the characters.
In casting veteran, highly capable actors in Collette, Byrne, and Ann Dowd, the movie manages to maintain a sense of realism that is essential for grounding a story that otherwise would require a suspension of disbelief.
Its willingness to buy in to occult themes – and to convince us to do the same – has rarely been used this effectively. Only on a few occasions have I seen movies that so compellingly ground themselves in witchcraft, the occult, and demonology (“Rosemary’s Baby,” “The Exorcist,” and “The Exorcist III” come to mind), movies that have told their stories so convincingly that I abandoned my skepticism. “Hereditary” has earned its place among these films. It is the rare movie that demands repeat viewings, and will undoubtedly leave audiences unsettled regardless of whether it’s being watched the first, third, or fifth time around.