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Hereditary is a horror film written and directed by Ari Aster in his feature debut. It stars Toni ColletteAlex WolffMilly ShapiroAnn Dowd, and Gabriel Byrne.

Plot

Annie Graham is a miniatures artist who lives in Utah with her husband, Steve; their 16-year-old son, Peter; and their 13-year-old daughter, Charlie. At the funeral of her secretive mother, Ellen Leigh, Annie delivers a eulogy explaining their fraught relationship and her mother's extremely private life. A week after, Steve is informed that Ellen's grave has been desecrated, while Annie thinks she sees an apparition of Ellen in her workshop. At a support group for the bereaved, Annie reveals that the rest of her family suffered from mental illness that resulted in their deaths.

To attend a party, Peter lies that he is going to a school event, and Annie forces him to take Charlie with him. Unsupervised, Charlie eats cake containing nuts, which she is allergic to, and falls into anaphylactic shock. As Peter drives her to a hospital, Charlie leans out of the window for air. Peter swerves to avoid a dead deer and Charlie is decapitated by a telephone pole. In shock, Peter silently drives home and leaves his sister's corpse in the car for their mother to discover the next morning. The family grieves following Charlie's funeral, heightening tensions between Annie and Peter. Peter is plagued by Charlie's presence around the house.

Annie is befriended by a support group member, Joan. Annie tells her she used to sleepwalk and recounts an incident in which she woke up in Peter's bedroom to find herself, Peter, and Charlie covered in paint thinner with a lit match in her hand. Joan teaches Annie to perform a séance to communicate with Charlie.

Annie wakes from a nightmare and convinces her family to attempt the séance. Objects begin to move and break, terrifying Peter, and Charlie seemingly possesses Annie until Steve douses her with water. Annie suspects that Charlie's spirit has become malevolent. She throws Charlie's sketchbook into the fireplace, but her sleeve also begins to burn, showing that she is connected with it. She retrieves it and heads to Joan's apartment for advice, but Joan is nowhere to be found.

Annie notices that Joan's welcome mat resembles her mother's craftwork. She goes through her mother's possessions and finds a photo album linking Joan to Ellen, and a book with information about a demon named Paimon, who wishes to inhabit the body of a male host. In the attic, Annie finds Ellen's decapitated body with strange symbols on the wall written in blood.

At school, Peter becomes possessed and slams his head against his desk, breaking his nose. Annie shows Steve her mother's body and the sketchbook. Annie begs Steve to burn the sketchbook so she can sacrifice herself to stop the haunting, but Steve assumes she has gone mad, accusing her of desecrating Ellen's grave herself. When Annie throws the book into the fireplace, Steve bursts into flames instead. Annie becomes possessed.

Peter awakens to find his father's body. Annie chases him into the attic, which is decorated with cult imagery. Levitating, Annie beheads herself with a piano wire as naked coven members look on. Peter jumps out of the window. As he lies on the ground, a light enters his body and he wakes up. He follows Annie's levitating corpse into Charlie's treehouse, where Charlie's crowned, severed head rests atop a mannequin. Joan, other coven members and the headless corpses of his mother and grandmother bow to him. Joan, addressing him as Charlie, swears an oath to him as Paimon, stating that he has been liberated from his female host, Charlie, and is free to rule over them.

Cast

Trivia

  • The entire interior of the Graham house was built on a sound stage.
  • The original cut of the film was over 3 hours. Mostly consisting of more family character development.
  • Ari wanted any effect that could be done practically to be done that way, instead of in post production.
  • To make the chalkboard write on itself, the special effects team put a magnet in the chalk and put a magnet on the other side of the chalkboard to make the chalk move.
  • Toni Collette has called Ari Aster the most prepared director she's ever worked with.
  • The film was shot in 32 days.
  • Toni Collette doesn't actually like horror films which is what made her hesitant at first to act in the film.
  • Alex Wolff is a huge horror movie buff.
  • Toni wore a prosthetic neck and used an actual piano string for the scene where she saws her head off.
  • The script was originally written to take place in a snowy landscape in the mountains.
  • Alex Wolff wanted to actually break his own nose for the desk scene. Ari told Wolff they'd give him a soft desk for the scene. When shooting the film, Wolff slams his head into the desk only to discover that the top was foam and the bottom was hard. He dislocated his jaw for the scene.

Production

Development:

Writer-director Ari Aster originally pitched Hereditary as a family tragedy before emending his script into a supernatural horror film in hopes of enticing distributors. A fan of domestic dramas, Aster incorporated themes of the genre into his script, envisioning a film rooted in family dynamics, trauma, and grief. He interpreted the film as two halves which are "completely inextricable from each other": "It begins as a family tragedy and then continues down that path, but gradually curdles into a full-bore nightmare".

Casting:

Toni Collette was one of the first actresses Aster sought for the role of Annie Graham, a miniaturist and the matriarch of the Graham family. Though Collette was reluctant to work on a horror film, the script's grounded approach to the genre convinced her to commit to the project: "He [Aster] just really understood the dynamics in the family, has such an understanding of what it is to be human, what it is to experience loss".

Gabriel Byrne agreed to play the family's patriarch Steve; Alex Wolff, who previously collaborated with Byrne in the HBO program In Treatment was cast as the Grahams' son Peter. Cast in her cinema debut, 14 year-old Broadway theatre actress Milly Shapiro, winner of a Tony Honor for her performance in Matilda the Musical, earned the role of the pre-teen daughter Charlie. After watching Shapiro's audition, Aster was immediately relieved "'cause I knew the chances were slim that I would find somebody who would be right", having left Charlie's personality more ambiguous than other characters in the script.

Filming:

The film began shooting in February 2017 in Utah. The exteriors of the Graham family house and the tree house were shot in Summit County, Utah, and the school scenes were shot at West High School and Utah State Fairpark, but all other interiors (including both versions of the treehouse) were built from scratch on a sound stage. Since each of the rooms was built on a stage, walls could be removed to shoot scenes at a much greater distance than a practical location would allow, creating the dollhouse aesthetic of the film.

Release:

Hereditary premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 21, 2018. The trailer for the film was released on January 30, 2018. On Anzac Day in 2018, the trailer for Hereditary played before the PG-rated family film Peter Rabbit in a cinema in Innaloo, Western Australia. According to a report in The Sydney Morning Herald, the Hereditary preview was accidentally shown to family audiences and created a small panic in the theater. The theater was apparently full of families including "at least 40 children".

The film was released in the United States by A24 on June 8, 2018. It was released in the United Kingdom by Entertainment Film Distributors on June 15, 2018.

Critical Response:

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 89% based on 326 reviews, and an average rating of 8.2/10. On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 87 out of 100, based on 49 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".

Writing for Rolling Stone, Peter Travers gave the film 3.5 out of 4 stars and called it the scariest movie of 2018, saying "it's Collette, giving the performance of her career, who takes us inside Annie's breakdown in flesh and spirit and shatters what's left of our nerves. Her tour de force bristles with provocations that for sure will keep you up nights. But first, you'll scream your bloody head off." For The A.V. Club, A.A. Dowd gave the film an A−, stating that, "In its seriousness and hair-raising craftsmanship, Hereditary belongs to a proud genre lineage, a legacy that stretches back to the towering touchstones of American horror, unholy prestige-zeitgeist classics like The Exorcist and Rosemary's Baby. Remarkably, it's a first feature, the auspicious debut of writer-director Ari Aster, whose acclaimed, disturbing short films were all leading, like a tunnel into the underworld, to this bleak vision." Common Sense Media gave the film four out of five stars and advised that it was suitable for viewers aged 17 or older.

Audience Reception:

Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "D+" on an A+ to F scale. Some publications noted the critics-to-audience discrepancy, comparing it to Drive, The Witch and It Comes at Night, all of which were critically acclaimed but failed to impress mainstream moviegoers. Conversely on Rotten Tomatoes, 64% of over 10,000 viewers liked the film, giving it an average score of 3.4 out of 5.

Awards

Award Category Recipient Result
AACTA International Awards Best Actress - International Toni Collette Nominated
Alliance of Women Film Journalists Bravest Performance Toni Collette Nominated
Boston Online Film Critics Association Best Actress Toni Collette Won
Boston Society of Film Critics Best New Filmmaker Ari Aster Runner-up
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards Best Actress Toni Collette Won
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards Best Film Hereditary Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards Most Promising Filmmaker Ari Aster Won
Columbus Film Critics Association Awards Best Picture Hereditary 10th Place
Columbus Film Critics Association Awards Best Actress Toni Collette Nominated
Columbus Film Critics Association Awards Breakthrough Film Artist Ari Aster Nominated
Columbus Film Critics Association Awards Best Cinematography Pawel Pogorzelski Nominated
Critics' Choice Movie Awards Best Actress Toni Collette Nominated
Critics' Choice Movie Awards Best Sci-Fi/Horror Movie Hereditary Nominated
Detroit Film Critics Society Awards Best Actress Toni Collette Won
Fangoria Chainsaw Awards Best Wide Release Hereditary Won
Fangoria Chainsaw Awards Best Director Ari Aster Won
Fangoria Chainsaw Awards Best Actress Toni Collette Won
Fangoria Chainsaw Awards Best Supporting Actor Alex Wolff Won
Fangoria Chainsaw Awards Best Supporting Actress Milly Shapiro Nominated
Fangoria Chainsaw Awards Best Screenplay Ari Aster Won
Fangoria Chainsaw Awards Best Score Colin Stetson Nominated
Fangoria Chainsaw Awards Best Kill Charlie's Death Won
Golden Trailer Awards Best Horror Hereditary Nominated
Golden Trailer Awards Most Original Trailer Hereditary Nominated
Gotham Awards Best Actress Toni Collette Won
Gotham Awards Breakthrough Director Ari Aster Nominated
Gotham Awards Audience Award Hereditary Nominated
Independent Spirit Awards Best Female Lead Toni Collette Nominated
Independent Spirit Awards Best First Feature Ari Aster

Kevin Frakes

Lars Knudsen

Buddy Patrick

Nominated
International Online Cinema Awards Best Actress Toni Collette Won
International Online Cinema Awards Best Supporting Actor Alex Wolff Nominated
International Online Cinema Awards Best Original Screenplay Ari Aster Nominated
International Online Cinema Awards Best Cinematography Pawel Pogorzelski Nominated
International Online Cinema Awards Best Film Editing Lucian Johnston

Jennifer Lame

Nominated
International Online Cinema Awards Best Sound Mixing Lewis Goldstein

Steven C. Laneri

Tom Ryan

Nominated
International Online Cinema Awards Best Sound Editing Lewis Goldstein Nominated
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Best Actress Toni Collette Runner-up
Neuchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival Narcisse Award for Best Feature Film Hereditary Nominated
St. Louis Gateway Film Critics Association Best Actress Toni Collette Won
Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Awards Best Actress Toni Collette Nominated
Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Awards Best Youth Performance Milly Shapiro Nominated
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