Warning: This post contains spoilers for the movie Hereditary.
Writer and director Ari Aster is fully aware that his debut feature Hereditary is a pummeling experience. The film opens with the death of a matriarch, and then follows a family led by Toni Collette's Annie Graham, an artist who constructors elaborate miniatures and a mother of two, as it descends into an emotional and psychological hellscape defined by tragedy, cruelty, and violence. By the end, the audience is meant to feel broken. Aster describes it over the phone on a sunny Friday afternoon this way: "It is a film where it's prime aim is to really upset the spectator."
So why are so many people celebrating a project so viscerally upsetting? Ever since it debuted at Sundance in January, Aster's A24 produced horror film has received the type of rave reviews from critics and glowing endorsements from fellow filmmakers that typically greet an awards-season favorite. While Aster acknowledges that the reception has been "surprising" and "a relief," he must have known he had something potent on his hands. With each stomach-churning twist and skin-crawling image, the film takes on an almost demonic power as it builds tension over the course of its first hour. Then things really go off the rails.