Having a mental illness is enough to be frightening. When you're in that state in which you have no idea whether your thoughts are your own or a manifestation of the illness such as schizophrenia, bipolar, or even depression. All these can cause sudden changes that are never that of the person's character, but of the cause of a chemical imbalance. Now how about we add a supernatural element into the mix, and you have another layer of mystery. You may notice that a lot of the best ghost stories include people that usually have a mental illness or a secret background. Either elements cleverly add to unbalance of the character, making their situation and our viewpoint as an audience more frightening.
Movies like The Haunting, Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist, Poltergeist, and The Conjuringfeature characters with the previously stated attributes that added to the film's suspenseful tone without going too over-the-top. One notion that's not addressed too often in movies about mental illness is the hereditary aspect. Those of us who've grown up with a family history of that can be scared themselves that destiny will force them with the same problems. Hereditarybrilliantly adds many layers to that fear along with a ghost story.
A miniature artist Annie Graham (played by Toni Collette) is in the middle of dealing with her mother Ellen's passing. At the funeral, she mentions that she had a shaky relationship with her, who in return, was a private woman. Her family includes husband Steve (played by Gabriel Byrne), teenage son Peter (played by Alex Wolff), and daughter Charlie (played by Milly Shaprio). In addition to her daughter being a reclusive oddball, she reveals at a support group that her family has had a history of mental illness. Annie also starts seeing her mother in random spots in the house (even though no one else can see her).
Another family tragedy ends up pushing Annie's mental state further until she meets a woman Joan who tells her that the dead can be contacted through a séance. Annie then uses the tricks taught to her to show the family that it's real. Time passes by as more images of the family are heard and seen in ghostly form while the living members each go through their own trials that reveal more about Ellen.
Like a lot of horror movies, what's best is what you don't know and Hereditaryhas those necessary layers. Let's address the most important aspect of it, the characters. Toni Collette proves again that she take the typical "mom" trope and give it that extra weight. It helps that along with her family history and the fact she does have a lot on her belt, she still has the motivation to dig deeper on what's going on. This makes the story just as interesting to us as it is to her. Peter Wolff, fresh from the recent Jumanji, looks a little old, but he also balances the stress of being a teenager and the dilemma that he's facing. Finally, I have to give a lot of points to Milly Shapiro for playing what has too be one of the more unsettling performances of the movie.
Where Hereditaryshines is in it's tone and atmosphere. Walking into this movie is like walking into a true nightmare. There aren’t any big fantasy-like set pieces or even a gothic house, but it takes the kind of household you might see from an upper class family and make it feel so uncomfortable and unfamiliar that moving forward is like taking a deep breath. It all relies beautifully on the story, which I cannot spoil, but adjusts to the overall mood.
Finally, what makes Hereditarysuch an unforgiving, not pleasant experience is how much it understands the human mind above ghosts. It understands that when we lose someone, we always want to see them one more time, but shudder at the idea of them coming back. It's that genuine feeling of feeling alone in a familiar environment that makes it scary.
I'll admit that without spoiling anything, the movie's distinct 2 acts will feel jarring for a mainstream audience expecting one outcome. I really enjoyed this and I think a lot of horror fans will do so too, but I can see this being disliked by people who expect something more straightforward.
I'll give this five miniature rooms out of five. I really liked Hereditary. We seem to be living in an era where the best original ideas come from the horror genre. This adds to the originality we're capable of. If your up for walking into a nightmare, see Hereditary.