Review: ‘Hereditary’ (marketing mismanaged)

It’s usually late August or early awards season for a film this convoluted to appear in the wild.

After the funeral of her mother, Annie (Toni Collette) wrestles with a lack of feelings over the death; her husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) appears equally indifferent. Her older son Peter (Alex Wolff) has become distant while her younger daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) mourns the loss of her grandmother vocally. Annie throws herself into her work as a distraction after she begins noticing odd things; her husband is worried enough about her state of mind to hide the fact her mother’s grave was desecrated only a week after the burial. When a second tragedy befalls the family soon after, Annie meets a woman named Joan (Ann Dowd) who relates, having suffered a similar loss… and she offers Annie an unusual and fantastic way to get over her grief.

There have been a lot of claims surrounding this film from distributor A24, such as boasting it may be “too scary” and watching it gives some viewers the equivalent of a two-hour workout on their hearts. This kind of marketing is almost a throwback to Hollywood yesteryear, like advertising nurses standing by in theaters in the event someone faints during the presentation, never mind being called “the scariest movie of the year.” The real question is, is this a drama with horrific elements that can hold the attention of a fickle audience, or a smoke screen for something that really doesn’t work to begin with?

There is a high probability this film was mismarketed from the start, with explanations of it being a family drama if you remove all the horror elements. Writer and director Ari Aster reportedly won’t discuss the very personal events from his own life he infused into Hereditary, but mixing it in with horror and the occult may have been a mistake to being with. With an overlong middle that meanders under the guise of a slow burn thriller that ends in a convoluted mishmash of horror tropes, the ending feels tacked on as a way to spin the drama in light of all the creepy bits meant to hold your attention. With supernatural elements failing to pay off as window-dressing for a potentially serious broken-family drama, an audience giggling throughout the film’s ending is the least of Hereditary’s problems.

To best avoid spoilers, it’s easier to compare this with another A24 release: The Witch. That film was also about a broken family, a fact that rested solely on the shoulders of the family’s father; his sins brought about the godlessness that not only got them exiled but ended up destroying them utterly. The story hinged on the idea that their fate was deserved, and learning the hows and whys made it work, even when the last character makes their final choice to give in or to go on.

In contrast, events in Hereditary have an underlying cause as well, but no one in the family seems particularly worth saving. From the very beginning of the film, these people sharing a home already felt they were coasting along to begin with without any sense of them ever being a family. How can an audience relate to and feel anything for them without any evidence of them being a loving family, something they could actually lose? A few revelations accurately predict their doom from the opening scenes, fueling futility as an eventuality rather than evoke any feelings of actual dread.

There is one scene that rings true, with family members avoiding one another at dinner when Toni Collette’s character finally says exactly what’s on her mind, consequences be damned. The scene feels very real, to the point where everything before it and after it feels subdued, and it’s criminal to have a cast this good and waste it. Make no mistake: this isn’t a horror film for people who actually watch and enjoy horror films — anyone saying otherwise is probably marketing it.

Hereditary is rated R for horror violence, disturbing images, language, drug use, and brief graphic nudity which are the really disturbing images.

Zero skull recommendation out of four

How you’ll probably feel after watching Hereditary:


  1. “I know you’ve just walked out of ‘Hereditary,’ and I know that your heart is beating very fast, I know there’s probably sweat in your hands. And there’s probably tears in your eyes. And there’s probably acid in your stomach,” Wolff says into the camera during an exclusive interview for TheWrap. “And I know that this is hard. But the good news is, you won’t get over this. This will haunt you for months to come.”

    Um… nope. The audience I saw it with giggled at the end.


    • We’re in the spoilers section here, so speak up: how so? I really wanted to like this — I hoped it would be good — but it’s nonsensical. I’m not even sure it deserves to be called Hereditary because even that really doesn’t make much sense.


  2. When reviewers do not understand a movie and use that as an excuse to shit all over it. Let’s be real even from a purely technical standpoint this movie shines. Also, your rating system is probably one of the more idiotic I have seen. Comparing 1-4 ranking to Rotten Tomatoes percentages. I am not sure why they allow you to show up on their website when you clearly don’t understand that is is a positive/negative model which merely shows the percentage of critics who liked it and did not. Your weird goth website is played out and most of the feedback on your reviews are one Star. Take the hint. For Grim D Reapers reviews as a whole I give ZeRo oUt oF FiVe sTarz


    • Attacking me or my opinions doesn’t make the movie any better to me — and I’m still waiting to hear why it anyone thinks it’s so good. Care to weigh in? Tell me why I should reconsider my recommendation; I won’t even attack you for it.


    • Also: the Rotten Tomatoes percentage rating is based upon total positive “fresh” vs. negative “rotten” reviews, not how many stars or skulls we give it, but we still need a personal ratings system. Pretty much just an average of thumbs-ups or thumbs-downs. Personally, I’d rather have no ratings system but not eveyone likes readint the actual review. Just an FYI — you’re welcome.


  3. Found this from the Washington Post that I agree with, although I was less kind.

    “Hereditary” is staged, photographed and acted so brilliantly, and brings up issues of motherhood, resentment and creativity with such subtlety, that it’s tempting to overlook its alternately astonishing and laughable excesses. For a while there, this movie is going places, even if the final destination isn’t nearly as fascinating as the journey.


  4. I had been anticipating this movie for some time, as I take more interest in psychological horror movies, rather than gratuitous gore or formulaic movie-making. I’ll say this: this movie is too smart for the average move-goer, and perhaps even too smart for its own good (the ending need not have been so obvious). In this day and age, when movies like “Rampage”, “Fast & Furious 26” (or whatever that property is up to now) and “Return of the Jedi” are considered “must see cinema”, it’s only common sense that horror fans will find “Hereditary” too vague or thin for their enjoyment.

    But I will also admit: some teens in the theater I saw it in laughed at the end.



      I watch a lot of horror and psychological thrillers, not to mention tons of awards screeners for movies most folks will never hear about. There’s a difference between being smart and neglecting to trust your audience, but you still have to give them something rather than show them so-called horrific images between dramatic bits. When the girl’s head came off, I thought “Thank God.” When Joan showed up, I thought “She’s her mom’s friend and don’t trust her,” confirmed almost instantly. The cool miniatures used for the production design were awesome, but it never became anything more than that in the film other than one character’s crutch, and the same with Charlie’s cool little “totems.” And please: everyone knows you don’t work a Ouija board alone.

      Anyone who watches films like this sees through them, but Hereditary barely explained why it even has that title let alone why grandma dying was the catalyst to start “conjuring for riches.” If they wanted to impress me, their newly crowned Peter should have slaughtered the lot of them in gleeful laughter; at least that would have been exciting and interesting. As it was, it was too long between things happening and killed a family drama by insisting on supernatural elements that really didn’t work.


      • Some people have attributed the “Hereditary” title to Annie’s mental illness, which she shares with her mother. One theory my friends and I had is that it actually refers to the mental illness that she shares with her son – and that the traumatic death of Charlie is what kickstarts it for both of them. The mounting supernatural stakes we see onscreen are just symptoms of their psychosis, told from their perspectives. The end bit is just a dissociative, psychotic break.


      • I agree with your assessment 100%. This movie had potential. I’ve been excited for it for months. It was doing a fantastic job of being grim and uncomfortable and unnerving for a good chunk of its runtime, and I was completely on board with recommending it to friends. It could have been a great family drama/thriller about mental illness. And then the ending ruined it with the supernatural elements. And I love supernatural elements! Demonic possession is my favorite horror sub-genre. But this just didn’t work for me, and I left the theater disappointed for what could have been.


  5. To do-me-carisi: that’s not bad… except if it were true, then the audience shouldn’t have been shown things we know the characters didn’t see. The symbol carved into the back of the telephone pole that Charlie got up close and personal with, or the fact that Annie’s mom’s grave had already been dug up before Charlie’s accident. And where did Annie get a wire saw, let alone decide to cut her own head off… or was that all craziness, too? Plus Charlie herself saw her grandma and the flames over the hill when she was scolded for being outside barefoot… yet Annie didn’t seem to see that. I’d rather buy the whole cult setting them up thing then any kind of other mental issues, but that also left way too many things up to pure chance unless the “spellcraft” was affecting that, too.


    • For me, the whole point of the movie, was that this was all meticulously planned by a “higher power,” which in this case was the coven. Annie was GOING to give birth to a spawn of satan, well, King Paimon actually. Annie said she never wanted children, but her mother pushed her into it. She wouldn’t “give up” Peter. But she finally gave in and “gave” her mother, Charlie, after she kept pushing her to. Annie’s mother KNEW she was going to give birth to a demon seed. Annie even tried to miscarry on purpose because she has a mother’s intuition, if you will, that this baby was not right. This explains why the body was dug up before any of this happened. This was all a plan, a plan that was years and years in the making.

      As far as the mental issues go, I feel they used them as a way to keep us from knowing which way this movie was going to go. Was Annie just mentally ill? Or were there ACTUALLY supernatural forces at work here? I feel like we truly didn’t know until Annie’s husband caught on fire. Annie didn’t see what Charlie saw, because only Charlie could see it. We didn’t know if Charlie also had a mental illness, which again, kept us confused as to what was real and what wasn’t.

      I really enjoyed the film. I’d like to see it again so I can notice things I didn’t the first time around!


      • That’s the best assessment I’ve heard so far — better than the “it was all in their sick minds” idea — but that really trusts the audience to come to that conclusion — perhaps unfairly.

        There is a tendancy in Holloywood, especially around awards season, to release films that feel unfinished, like we’re supposed to come up with the whys and hows. Japan does this already, making films like Ringu (“The Ring”) with far less explanation than American audiences prefer… strictly in the hopes viewers will buy more tickets and go back again to figure it out.

        In a visual and audible medium, viewers shouldn’t have to guess. While novels can give you additional insight into the minds of characters, movies have to do that on screen and through the sound system. Yes it was pretty — any good DP can give you that with a decent camera system — but I think the film manipulates the audience into readin more than is really there… and the kids laughing at the ending seems the more appropriate ending.

        That said, I saw it on an afternoon with mostly middle-aged folks, and someone successfully started the chant, “King Paimon, give us our money back!”

        I think I’ll call him King Peyote from now on; it sounds more appropriate.

        Great feedback — thank you!


    • Not a wire saw. Just plain old piano wire. After she crawls on the wall out of her sons room and they hold on the son for a while, you hear the sound of piano keys smashing and then when he goes down stairs the smashed piano is shown at the edge of the frame. I know this isn’t really important to the point you were trying to make, but it has an answer that I thought was pretty hard to miss while watching the movie.


      • I’ll admit I missed that — can a piano wire cut like that? — but still not all that clear on why. That’s another weird point: Annie discovers setting Charlie’s sketchbook on fire inexplicably sets herself ablaze, so in an effort to save her son, she tries to convince “the love of her life” to do it for her. When that fails, she tearfully throws it in herself… and Steve goes up like a Roman candle instead — what?! Again I ask: how did the so-called cult orchestrate all this nonsense knowing characters have free will? Then Annie “checks out” mentally with a blank expression — again with no plausable explanation — and turns into catatonic Spider-Man with no further character development for the rest of the film. Ugh…


  6. Someone posted: “I feel like this is selling it way short. And I’m starting to wonder if the marketing isn’t mismanaged so much as misdirection.”

    If I wanted a beautiful film that doesn’t make sense by the end or just all seems silly, I’d watch a Terrence Malick flick. I was promised horror, not a giggle-fest.

    Also: if their aim was to trick people into seeing it, I aim to counter that arguement.


  7. Exactly, Malarkay. After watching The Exorcist, The Exorcist III: Legion, The Rite, The Last Exorcism, The Exorcism of Emily Rose… there are so many better examples of this and the rules are pretty much established. Granted, you can make up your own rules if justified within your story, but that requires exposition; you can’t just break the rules or make it up without something in-story to explain it… or else you’ll lose the smarter part of your potential audience.

    There’s a type of film critic out there that, for lack of a better explanation, seems to believe that the more convuluted and impossible to understand something is, all is forgiven as long as it’s well-acted and pretty to look at. These reviewers are not fans of self-aware indie horror with practical effects or better-scripted thrillers that trust the audience with their secrets, allowing the clever ones out there to guess ahead and see the train coming. It’s as if they don’t want to know, that an unsolvable mystery is preferred over establishing and following a set structure. I see this at awards time, too, when movies like Nocturnal Animals are championed while the story cheats the viewers in addition to ending on an ambiguous note.


  8. god this movie sucked. love the anecdote about the chant “give us our money back King Paimon”!
    it was pretty, if and you like 2.5 hrs of one note hysteria collette’s performance will awe you, but the plot made very little sense, and the scares except for the girl getting decapitated were pathetic and humorous. I seriously wonder if there is some marketing payola involved with the stellar reviews, which create an Emperor’s New Clothes effect.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. In a genuine effort to see if — maybe — I missed something, here’s Nerdist’s spoiler-filled breakdown of the entire film with explanations:

    About the only thing I didn’t noticed until it was pointed out to me was where Annie got the “saw,” being a wire from the busted piano. All the other clues were obvious and, frankly, just not all that disturbing, a point hinging on the fact the family isn’t likeable, is clearly doomed, and it doesn’t seem likely “the cult” let alone Paiman could have manipulated this in any resonable way.

    Why would Paiman accept being brought in through Charlie knowing full well this isn’t the vessel he prefers? Why not wait for a correct vessel? He’s waited this long already! Why would the grandmother’s corpse NEED to be decapitated just because somebody screwed up and got Charlie decapitated? Still no clue as to why grandma had to die to make all this work; was the cult rushed or running out of time? Could Joan have been any more obvious from the moment she ran up to the car?



  10. Hold everything: now there’s another interpretation of events!

    Remember what I said about ambiguity? Everyone seems to have their own idea why all of this inexplicably works, and yet no one has the same answers. Feel shortchanged yet? Check this out:

    Go ahead: somebody explain to me why Paiman’s symbol was already on the telephone pole that killed Charlie. Because the cult set it up. or because they can see the future? It doesn’t hold up folks…!


  11. Milly Shapiro, who played the teen daughter in Hereditary, compares the film to The Shining and The Exorcist, that you need to see it many times to “get it.”

    “You wouldn’t really get it unless you’ve seen it a few times.”

    Hereditary claims to be secretive because we only see the family’s POV, but that is patently false: the camera showing us the mark on the telephone pole of destiny, the orgy of evidence table in the apartment, the motherly book of falling open to the final solution, and of course, honorable mention to the quietest, non-barking dog ever. There are numerous other instances, too, so why bother hiding the rest other than for the not-so-twisty twist?

    Nope. Fool me once…


  12. Medium all around, IMHO, but Collette is a force and I did love the in-joke of Gabriel Byrne being the dad. If they had let in some of that cheesy dialogue from “End of Days,” I would have been a happy camper.


    • A few have pointed out the marked age difference between Byrne and Collette, too, but that didn’t bother me too much considering how often Hollywood does that, no matter how ridiculous.


  13. “I’m not even sure it deserves to be called Hereditary because even that really doesn’t make much sense.”

    It’s so funny that you wrote this because I left that movie saying the same thing to my friend with whom I saw it. She kept telling me I was wrong, and the title makes so much sense. It didn’t really seem like it had anything to do with things that are hereditary, like genetics and illness. The mother setting them up to be sacrificed doesn’t really feel like something bred into them. It’s like if The Wicker Man and Rosemary’s Baby referred to genetics in their titles, people would be kinda confused, right?

    Anyway, I didn’t dislike this movie but I was really looking forward to it (nervous even on my way into the theater) then sorta disappointed. A friend of mine who loved it told me that parts of it felt like psychological warfare to him, and I was at a loss for what to say. Responding with, “my goodness, you must not watch a lot of horror movies!” seemed rude so I changed the subject to how adorable Alex Wolff is and how he’s got a real bright future ahead of him.


    • I can’t blame the cast for this. Collette was on-point, but Byrne was given nothing to do and the kid characters were both wastoids — is that still a thing? Sure, there were reasons for it, but it felt like being put out of their misery was the best thing that could have happened to them… and to us.


    • The potential was there, but the so-called “victims” were neither compelling not worthy of pity… and because the “bad guys” were virtually an enigma saddling us with the pathetic family, it just didn’t play out right.

      I will champion MidSommar as having fixed these big issues. By giving us someone to care about who genuinely didn’t deserve what was being heaped upon her — and appropriate comeuppance — MidSommar carried weight, empathy, and horror… even in the bright sunlight. 💀


Speak up, Mortal -- and beware of Spoilers!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s