The episode of Deconstructing… covering Hereditary was Written, Edited, and Narrated by Kier Gomes, Produced by Tyler Nichols and John Fallon, and Executive Produced by Berge Garabedian.
What was the first thing you remember hearing about Hereditary (watch it HERE)? For me, I remember walking up to the movie theater bar on opening night and telling the bartender what movie I was seeing. Now, for context- I went into Hereditary completely cold. No trailers, no promo ads, no early review articles, nothing. And when I told the bartender I was seeing Hereditary, she looked right at me and said, “that’s the kind of movie that you only need to see once.” I have to admit that is a pretty impressionable review- but just a few short minutes later, I was in my seat ready to see what exactly this Ari Aster debut had in store. And man, oh man, was that bartender wrong.
2018’s Hereditary is the feature film debut of Ari Aster and was released with iconic arthouse studio, A24. The film follows the Graham family led by parents Annie and Steve and including their two children Peter and Charlie. After a family tragedy leaves their young daughter dead, the family slowly spirals into chaos as the grief of their loss brings out the absolute worst and most desperate of darkness inside of them, and their lineage. While it is indeed one of those films that you really have to be in the mood for, I believe that this movie actually requires you to watch it multiple times as the story in the foreground is only one part of what’s actually happening. Much like Aster’s subsequent work in Midsommar and Beau is Afraid, Aster finds a way to tell one story in full focus, while playing out another story in the blurry shadows of each frame. For those looking for a sleepy yet comforting horror film to curl up with on the couch this winter- I can’t say this is the one for you as there is absolutely nothing comforting about it- but if you’re looking for something that will shock you as much as it intrigues you and something that will leave you with plenty to think about- then join me in today’s episode where we take a look at Hereditary and figure out why this movie made such an impression on the horror genre- and why it has all the makings of a modern classic.
It’s a sad day for the Graham family. The family is attending a funeral for Annie’s deceased mother who has left quite an empty void in the now grieving family. Perhaps most affected by the death is Charlie- Annie’s 13 year old daughter who was closer to her grandmother than anyone else. See, Charlie is a weird kid. Her isolated and shy behavior leaves her to be seen as sort of a black sheep of her family which is sure to be even more noticeable now that her grandmother is dead. But when strange happenings begin surrounding the family following the funeral- They soon discover the demonic truth behind their eccentric family.
And as usual, we’re going to deconstruct this movie by way of our 4-key-categories. First, We’re going to go over a brief origin of this movie and talk about how it got from the page to the screen. Then, we’ll continue with talking about the film’s legacy where we break down the iconic moments and memorable pieces of this film that made their own lane in the zeitgeist. After that, we’ll shake things up with some trivia and go over some fun facts that you may not have known. And finally, we’ll get into the film’s X-Factor where I look for the one individual aspect of this movie that makes it stand out among the vast lineup of A24 horror movies. So, if you’re ready then climb up into your tree house, and don’t forget to like the video. And let’s hit play on Hereditary.
Ari Aster has had an interesting career as an auteur filmmaker since this film’s release. However, before he was the genre-bending, controversial director he is today- He was a student at the famed American Film Institute with an affinity for making horror. Aster is a fairly quiet person and has developed a sort of reputation for writing stories that carry themes of dysfunctional families and parent/child relationships. Aster is very open about his influences and where his interest in these themes comes from. When working on the script for Hereditary, Aster would watch films with similar family-trauma themes for inspiration. Movies like Carrie, which tracks the incredibly toxic and harmful relationship between a mother and daughter. In fact, not only is Carrie a clear inspiration for the themes of this movie, but also certain visuals that invoke the same frightening imagery.
Something very well done in this film is the presentation of family dynamics in the Graham household. Each character is just developed enough to be integral in the thickening plot and thanks to the inspired casting choices made behind the scenes- the performances are dialed in with incredible precision.
Toni Collette, who plays Annie Graham- the matriarch of the family, was far and away the most ideal casting choice for this particular role. As the movie develops, we see Annie go from a typical modern mom to becoming a gravity defying, dark lord loving monster that WILL make you piss yourself at some point in the final act. But there’s so much range in the role that Collette can do a scene where she’s heartbroken and sadly lamenting her relationship with her mother- but then a scene where she has to be raw and real in the clutches of her grief over the death of her daughter and it’s HAUNTING in every single frame.
Collette initially was hesitant to take on the lead role in a horror film- being that the Australian actress had previously done mostly dramatic or comedic roles. She was swayed to star in the movie after reading the script and finding it to be truly unique and grounded in raw reality. Unlike Toni, Milly Shapiro who plays Charlie auditioned for the role eager to star in a horror film. Milly had a credit in Matilda: The Musical on Broadway and received praise for the role before auditioning for Hereditary. And when Aster saw her tape, he instantly knew she was the only child for the role. We’re definitely going to talk more about Charlie a little later…
Okay, what do we talk about when we talk about Hereditary? Well, I think we can all agree that while this movie is disturbing through-and-through, Charlie’s death scene is a VERY special kind of fucked up. For obvious reasons- I’m not going to show you the scene in full but if you’ve seen the movie, you know exactly why this is the scene that gets talked about the most. When older brother Peter takes Charlie with him to a party- she accidentally eats peanuts in a cake which she’s allergic to. The pulse pounding starts right away as the scene unravels into chaos. Peter is getting stoned with his friends when Charlie’s throat starts closing from the allergy- and Peter is rushing her to the hospital when she sticks her head out the window to try to breath and (due to the darkness outside) doesn’t see the electrical post on the road that smashes into her face and decapitates her. It is… SO DARK.
Plain and simple, the scene pushed a lot of boundaries in not only killing off a kid but doing it in such a brutal and unmerciful way. The movie pretty much lets you sit in the scene until you get sick, and this is why it’s so memorable. It didn’t cut away from Peter after he realized what was happening. It fixes the camera directly on him and floods us with nothing but the sound of him hyperventilating and the quietness of death. Now this scene happens shockingly early in the film, so there is still a lot of intensity to go. The film has multiple frightening scenes that were shot in gloriously exposing compositions- Like when we see Peter uncontrollably smashing his face into his desk, or when we see this brutal shot of grandma sawing her own head off while levitating in the fucking air.
I could probably make a whole separate video just talking about spoilers and plotlines- but none of them are quite as stomach-wrenching as Charlie’s death, and we’ve got bigger fish to fry here. Aside from the utterly upsetting events that unfold, it’s the performances of Alex Wolff as Peter, and Toni Collette as Annie that really bring you into this second half of the film. Annie secretly, and eventually NOT SO SECRETLY, resents Peter for accidentally killing his sister- something that he also feels unbearable guilt for. Wolff plays the role as if he were an actual 16-year-old kid and gives a layer of fear to everything he does. He’s not only guilty- but he’s also terrified of his mother. Collette bounces that performance back onto him as a mother who has to simultaneously hate her son and love him as a mother. Their performances are what make these otherwise unbelievable happenings fully grounded.
Hereditary was released in 2018 at Sundance, before getting a wide release later that year. According to reports from the time, a trailer for Hereditary accidentally premiered in Australia before a showing of the PG children’s film, Peter Rabit. Reports say it was a mistake but man, you could not have picked a LESS appropriate movie to put that trailer in front of.
However, the movie was a hit, making $82 Million globally off a small budget of just $10 million. This made Aster a shoo-in for another big project with A24 which spawned his sophomore effort, Midsommar, which was also a success. Aster’s latest and most divisive film yet, Beau is Afraid was released this year and personally, it didn’t hit me the way this movie did- but it is incredibly interesting. Or something…
In order to bond on the set, Aster required Milly Shapiro and Alex Wolff to have lunch together off the set and in character in order to form a realistic dynamic. According to Wolff, this resulted in the pair sitting together for hours with Milly being completely silent and Wolff trying to get her to talk- this is basically the exact relationship we see in the final cut of the film. Although the actors are friends in real life. Speaking of Alex Wolff getting into character, the young actor reportedly approached Ari Aster on the set and stated that he wanted to break his nose for real during the scene where he slams his face into his desk at school. While Aster appreciated the actor’s dedication, he respectfully declined to let him do it.
And speaking of things you may want to know about Hereditary, let’s see if you can answer this question: In order to create a cozy and beautiful forest environment that could also be menacing and haunting, where did Aster decide to shoot Hereditary?
- New Hampshire
Comment your answers down below!
As usual, I’m having a difficult time finding just one thing to single out as this movie’s X-Factor. I naturally wanted to talk about the movie’s visual style and clean, crispy, almost Kubrick-like camera work. I love the use of Annie’s miniatures to show transition scenes and the long takes that force you into the scene. It’s one of the most beautifully shot horror films of the last 10 years for sure, and there have been some bangers. I also considered using this segment to talk about the film’s unrelenting devastation and how dark the film was willing to go- but then it hit me that none of the things put to screen would have been quite as effective if Aster didn’t nail one small thing- the family dynamics.
See, the movie definitely is daring and generous with its scares- but truthfully, that’s just standard for good horror these days. Movies nowadays have to go to the darkest places in fresh and unique ways to stand out- so we can’t praise this movie for something like that without praising 100 other movies for the same thing. But what makes all the dark content within this movie different, is that it all feels terribly real. We feel sad when Charlie dies, yes. But we really feel the anxiety that Peter feels that he’s going to have to go home and face his parents with this tragedy. We feel sad for Annie because she lost her youngest daughter and isn’t sure how to cope. So, we understand when she blows up at Peter and acts out of desperation to get her little girl back. It’s all so raw and real and it only feels that way because this family FEELS real.
All too often, horror films will prioritize jump scares and plot convenience and ignore the development of its characters and their deeply complicated personalities. This movie does the opposite and is brutally real with its character work in order to serve the secondary element, which is the pure, straight, terror of Hereditary.
A couple of the previous episodes of Deconstructing… can be seen below,. To see more episodes, and to check out our other shows, head over to the JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel – and subscribe while you’re there!