Bad horror movies are instantly forgettable, such as Insidious or Paranormal Activity.

Good horror movies, like The Ring and The Descent, stay in your mind for a time.

Classic horror movies affect your heart and your soul, and they never go away. In the interest of giving you my perspective, here’s my own list of classics, in order:

The Exorcist. Jaws. The Silence of the Lambs. The Changeling. The Witch. And now, Hereditary.

Mild spoilers ahead.

What Scares You?

Horror being so subjective a topic, I know that there are dozens of other horror movies out there worthy of inclusion in any list of classics, but that list is mine simply because those movies scare me. They affected my heart and soul and presented images and scenes that I cannot forget.

The aspects of great horror movies that I consider to be indispensable are:

  • a somewhat relatable subject
  • impeccable acting
  • beautiful cinematography
  • solid, slow-burn editing
  • good direction with a purposeful vision
  • effective and sparingly used jump scares

Hereditary succeeds on all of those levels, but what puts it over the top is Toni Collette’s performance. I was mesmerized by the wild, frenetic, and yet somehow controlled energy that Collette displays.

I Think I’m Goin’ Crazy

Writer-director Ari Aster masterfully crafts his tale of one family’s descent into madness, and he uses Collette’s performance to ratchet up the tension, slowly and painfully.

The plot unfolds as we meet Annie (Collette) and her family: husband Steve, teen daughter Charlie, and teen son Peter. We join them at a difficult time in their life, the loss of Annie’s mother, and we follow them through their loss of much more.

The children in happier times.

There’s a very distinct sense of pacing and impending doom, such as you find in The Wicker Man (1973) and Rosemary’s Baby (1968). The audience is presented with a protagonist who feels like they are in control of their life and the proceedings surrounding them, while we the audience know that they are on a steep slope into Hell.

Naturalistic as HELL

Collette’s character begins the movie with a seeming death-grip on the ends of her sanity, and as the movie progresses she learns more about the truth of her mother’s life. However, the knowledge doesn’t provide comfort nor does it give an advantage to aid her in stopping the doom for which she is bound.

As the odd gives way to the unexplainable, she becomes desperate for help.

As the unexplainable gives way to the frightening, she begins to unravel.

As the frightening gives way to the deadly, she succumbs to the hell she can no longer escape.

At each turn, Collette turns up the intensity to the perfect level. In conjunction, director Aster pairs Collette’s brilliance with his overall vision for the tone and feel of the movie. Horrifying imagery, grisly violence, truly effective nightmare sequences, and near-perfect editing all blend together as this movie drowns the viewer in terror.

Gabriel Byrne in Hereditary
[Marv Albert voice] “He’s on FIRE!”
It’s truly palpable, and I can’t say enough good things about Toni Collette’s performance.

Death By A Thousand Cuts

I say the editing is near-perfect because there is a very fine line that horror movies may walk before they become either silly or boring. To begin with, the script must be tight enough and the director’s vision strong enough to know how the movie should flow. After that, editing should be gravy.

Hereditary does take more than a few instances where the editing ran long, but overall it works beautifully. I felt like the final sequence could’ve progressed a bit faster, but that was mostly because I was on the edge of my seat, anxious to know what sickening fate awaited the last surviving members of the family.

Here, director Aster twists the audience’s guts by making them wait, as each reaction shot and close up of the actor’s terror is drawn out and savored.

Hereditary Toni Collette
“Spreading its wings, as I wait for the horror she brings.”

Have You Ever Been Alone At Night, Thought You Heard Footsteps Behind?

I should also note that the sound mixing on this movie is incredibly good. This movie should be watched with a multi-channel sound system because many of the good scares come from sound alone, not from anything we can see in front of us. However, there is a good deal of terror in seeing Toni Collette silently scamper on all fours across a wall.

A Little Anxious When It’s Dark

Much like The Exorcist and The Changeling, this movie had me jumping at shadows after I watched it. Because I believe in the supernatural, I know this movie will stay with me the way The Exorcist has.

I highly recommend Hereditary. Thanks for reading!

4.5/5 stars.

Adios, amigos y amiguitas!