Warning: Mild spoilers for Hereditary ahead
There’s a certain irony in having to write up an article calling out the category-nine bullshit that is attempting to decry Hereditary as anything but a horror film. How are you gonna tell a horror movie — yes, it is a horror movie — about the insidious nature of evil running in the family and scream “be like other horror movies” at it?
To recap for those not in the know: Horror fans and non-horror fans alike are panning this movie because it “wasn’t scary”. And I know that people have expressed that it might be due to it’s artful nature; however, I’m unwilling to say it’s so simple and condescending that people just don’t appreciate intentional cinema. There are artfully done horror films that have terrified and delighted the masses.
You don’t even need to look that far away from Hereditary to see that. Just look at the The Shining, one of the film’s key inspirations. Kubrick’s masterpiece is widely considered a classic horror film, and to my knowledge no one is really debating that.
And with all due respect to Shelley Duvall, just like I, there’s no true scares in that movie. There are some general whispers of the supernatural that all come to light at the end, there’s some weird shit you can’t explain, there’s some scary naked lady in one of the rooms. (Sound familiar?)
So what made The Shining scary? The answer: Dread.
Dread is what kept The Shining so captivating, and the same holds true with Hereditary. From the very start you’re given clues to start conceptualizing what’s really afoot: that creepy smile Charlie receives as she looks upon her dead grandmother’s casket, seeing what we came to understand as the symbol of Piemon peppered throughout the movie, the haunting casualness of what befell Annie’s family when she was a kid. You never really see these things come into focus until everything’s made clear(ish) in the finale, but these little snippets that crop up are designed to keep you guessing scene by scene until you basically feel like you’re all but made of dread.
That’s exactly what horror movies are supposed to do, but I think horror audiences have been trained into believing that something needs to jump out from behind a curtain or someone’s got to be beheaded in front of you for you to truly grasp the fear of it. Full disclosure: I love a jump scare. Found-Footage is my favorite genre within the cluster of horror, and those movies thrive on that shit. But I don’t think that’s all that defines horror, nor should it. Good horror movies also stoke the scare fires by intentionally confusing you and focusing more on instilling dread than actual fear. And that’s exactly what Hereditary did.
-The Matte Black Cat