Settling in to watch Hereditary will fill you with the same type of gently gnawing fear you would feel if you were standing on the edge of deep lake in the middle of the night, knowing you have to dive in.
You know there are horrors in there somewhere, lurking in beneath those dark depths, but you have yet to fully see and confront them.
Hereditary follows Annie Graham (played by Toni Collette, who is absolutely at the top of her game in this role) an artist and mother of two who is grieving the recent death of her own mother, with whom she had a fraught and emotionally abusive relationship with.
Annie’s husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) and son Peter (Alex Wolff) appear relatively normal, both respectful but unmoved by the recent death, but it is the young daughter Charlie who appears most shaken by the loss.
Charlie (played with haunting perfection by Milly Shapiro) exhibits a wealth of disturbing and bizarre behaviour in the opening scenes of the film, including predicting her mother’s death and decapitating a dead bird that has killed itself by launching its body into her classroom window. She then places the bloodied head into her coat pocket.
But blood and gore is not what makes Hereditary so brilliant and so utterly terrifying all at the same time. While there are a few jump scares included in the film, in the same vein as iconic horror flicks such as Rosemary’s Baby or The Exorcist, the atmosphere itself is what is most terrifying.
In this case, most of the fear stems from a sickening slow-burn of storytelling that will force a small nugget of terror to settle in your chest as the events of the film unfold.
In fact, the tragedy that hits the already embattled Graham family midway through the film is disturbing enough in isolation to strike fear in your heart, even without taking into account the dark supernatural forces at play here.
It is this second family tragedy that sets in motion the a chain of events that lead to the film’s truly tragic ending.