Family is something that we cannot change - they are inevitably a part of us, they flow in our bloodstream. Many of our qualities are ones derived from our own family members, which can be either a blessing or a curse. Ari Aster's feature debut focuses on the latter - Hereditary is filled with haunting, nightmarish sequences that position those who often provide comfort and safety in our lives as figures that invoke the exact opposite. By addressing the deepest fears one could fathom about family, we are in turn forced to acknowledge our deepest fears about ourselves.
The film follows the Graham family, who is mourning the loss of Ellen, the elderly mother of Annie (Toni Collette). Annie feels somewhat ambivalent about her mother's death, hinting at her private lifestyle and the discomfort she often sparked. Annie is supported by her husband, Steve (Gabriel Byrne), and her two children, Peter (Alex Wolff) and Charlie (Milly Shapiro). While Peter is less affected by Ellen's death, Charlie takes her death much harder and begins to exhibit somewhat strange behaviours. It isn't long before the family is forced to face the horrific fate they have inherited.
Much of what made the film such a success was its ability to invoke such a strong sense of eeriness and unease in the audience through its use of score, sound design, and cinematography. This occurs immediately, right from the opening shot: a panoramic view of Annie's work room in the family house, filled with her miniature models of homes and people, before the camera zooms in a model of the Grahams' own house. This provides a rather sinister energy from the start, as if the family cannot control their fate, and are nothing more than dolls in some greater game.
A quite prominent sound in this film were tongue-clicks, which becomes an increasingly important character signifier throughout the film, and will make you never look at tongue-clicking the same way again. The sound design played with which direction a given sound might be coming from, and some were placed in varying speakers to make them sound as if they were occurring in the very room you were sitting in (this, of course, is something that is distinctly part of the film's theatrical experience - or of anywhere with a surround sound system). In addition, the score greatly helped to amplify emotional responses in the audience - typically ones of dire anxiety.
The performances in this were also quite strong: the actors came together to form a believable family with their own set of problems and deep-seeded anger, all while adding an additional layer of unease to their performances. And not only were the performances layered, but every scene, as well. Each individual scene could likely be unpacked to discover further nuances and subtexts, and for that reason alone, this is one slow-burn horror that will definitely earn itself several repeat viewings.