Discover the year's scariest film

Technically, you could describe Hereditary as a family film. But before you rush off to book tickets for your gran and nephew, we’d better explain.

Ari Aster’s bone-chilling debut movie examines the twisted blood-ties of an American family and the ghosts they inherit after the death of their spooky grandmother. “I was looking to make a family tragedy,” the director told The Iris, “that curdled into a nightmare…”


From faces crawling with bugs to figures engulfed by flames, Hereditary has a fistful of scenes to join The Exorcist’s spinning head and Alien’s chest-burster in the grand pantheon of horror iconography. But where Aster’s movie pulls ahead of the slasher pack is the director’s plunge into psychology, fractured family relationships and primal fears.

As film journalist AA Dowd notes: “Hereditary is pure emotional terrorism, gripping you with real horror, the unspeakable kind, and then imbuing the supernatural stuff with those feelings. It didn’t play me like a fiddle. It slammed on my insides like a grand piano…


If you loved Toni Collette as the kooky dreamer in Muriel’s Wedding and About a Boy – you’re in for a brilliant shock with Hereditary. The Oscar-nominated Australian is a goggle-eyed scream queen as Annie Graham: the matriarch dragged into madness by the beyond-the-grave antics of her dead mother. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’s Alex Wolff is the teenage son with the thousand-yard stare, Gabriel Byrne is the unravelling dad, and as Aster cheerfully admits to Film Comment, he pushed his cast to the brink.


From the blood-spattered Shining twins to the wraith-girl crawling through the TV in The Ring, there’s just something about a sweet, innocent kid that makes them seem doubly scary when they go bad.

As the Graham family’s troubled 13-year-old daughter, Charlie, Milly Shapiro gives a dead-eyed horror masterclass, whether she’s doodling monsters at her gran’s funeral or snipping the head off a pigeon...


Hereditary promises to do for the doll’s house what The Woman in Black did for rocking chairs. Annie works as a miniatures artist, and at key moments of the film, the action is played out by tiny figurines in a scale replica of the family home (a bit like a nerve-shredding version of that sequence from the original Paddington). “I wanted to make a home that became something malign and unrecognisable by the end,” says Aster. “And that’s where the miniatures come in.”



Slow-zooming and studying his characters’ faces to the point of discomfort, Aster’s visual style is hugely unsettling, giving the impression of a family being hunted by an unseen presence. The sensory knife is further twisted by the slithering soundtrack and disturbing sound effects. “Sound is so important in a horror film,” explains Aster, “especially since we’re dealing so much in dread and anticipation and things happening off screen, the power of suggestion.” 

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Cold Pursuit
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