Ari Aster’s Hereditary is family drama with a splash of King Paimon. Hereditary does utilize those familiar horror tropes (everything aside from cheap jump scares), but given this family drama first, horror film second, Aster manages a creepy film revolving around the mysterious past of Annie’s recently deceased mother and grandmother to both Charlie and Peter.
By mentioning King Paimon I fear I’ve let the demon out of the closet and spoiled the surprise, but what makes Hereditary a successful horror film is Aster’s ability to first focus entirely on the family and their relationship with one another then slowly erode that bond due to character flaws and apparent superficial coincidences. The obvious cultish undertones does not result in predictability.
The story takes place somewhere in rural Utah and within a single household. By cinematic design, the film’s mise en scène simulates the types of Annie’s interior/exterior miniature model building, suggesting that they themselves are influenced/molded by a higher power, which is evident by the deceased grandmother’s lingering presence. The film shifts perspectives from Annie, the mother, to Charlie, the reserved daughter, and finally to Peter, an anxious and disillusioned teen. By changing focus, unearthing the differences in these character’s relationship between one another, and slowly heightening the demonic/cultish forces at play, the film creates an unpredictable storyline with unpredictable characters.
The dysfunctional family drama can easily be overplayed within Hereditary, but as an audience member the horror is heightened once you realize you are rooting for and against characters that are and are not entirely to blame as they become second victims of past and present demonic rituals. While watching Hereditary you are unaware of the pillory you are caught in and unaware of the film’s slow burn towards an unforgettable climax that will make you question: who in the hell is King Paimon?
Review by Richard Thornell