“Hereditary” is More Than Just Shock Value: A Film Discussion

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Hannah Lonergan, Staff Writer |

On Oct. 28, the Oneonta Film Club hosted their second discussion this semester on Microsoft Teams. “Hereditary” was the feature film for the October discussion series.

“Hereditary” was director Ari Aster’s debut film and premiered in 2018. The story follows the Graham family as they deal with loss and grief through almost too planned out sinister events. The protagonist, Annie, is the mother of the family who watches her life spiral out of control; literally, because predetermined actions continue to happen when nobody is willing to talk about what’s going on.

The film discussion kicked off with the group discussing how they liked the movie and what they thought about the ending. There is no big, catastrophic ending as things are neatly wrapped up and explained to the audience. One attendee noted that “it’s not a happy ending, it’s a disappointing ending.” There were other mixed feelings. Oneonta Film Club’s advisor, Dr. Felschow, wished they had done something else with the ending and another attendee agreed that they “would prefer a more ambiguous ending.”

The film is heavy with foreshadowing. During the discussion, one attendee brought up how the first act references the ending with the treehouse and the stage of grief during the funeral. The opening scene focuses on a dollhouse, a theme throughout, and then ends with the treehouse having a dollhouse-like appearance. The original screenplay reveals that the treehouse is, in fact, a dollhouse but this isn’t portrayed in the film.

Despite the foreshadowing and knowing what shocks will happen, the film does have re-watch value. There are a lot of symbols hidden within the shadows. Spoiler alert: one part in particular that a first-time watcher might miss is the dog dying. It’s not clear in the first watch that it does, but the dog is seen dead during the climax of the film.

Another main topic from the discussion was the element of dark comedy in the film. The family relationships and the use of drugs shown are oddly familiar, allowing the audience to relate to the characters. This in turn adds an extra element of comedy to the film, because there is just something a little off about the situations.

The audience can relate to the film through the relatable parent to child interactions. One may also relate to the secrets that families keep along with other issues that underpin the horror aspects.

Dollhouses are prevalent throughout the film. The group discussed how this relates to the main plot. One feature of the film is that you only see characters from one side. For example, Peter, Annie’s son, is only seen from the left side of his bed. Dollhouses are also seen as a form of surveillance or a way to peer into a home. This is important because the characters have a false sense of security in their lives, not knowing that they are constantly being watched.

Dr. Felschow prompted the group to discuss how gender works in “Hereditary.” The film deals with three generations of women dealing with a demon that needs to be in the body of a male. It plays with the idea of women not being listened to as Annie knows that something isn’t right, but nobody listens. One attendee mentioned how Ari Aster based “Hereditary” off of two other films that discuss grief and loss: “Don’t Look Now” (1973) and “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968). One thing that helps the audience resonate with Annie, is that we see everything from her perspective as a grieving mother – which is the same as “Rosemary’s Baby.” The audience knows something is wrong and supports the protagonist, but nobody else in the film agrees.

The discussion also turned into a conversation about Ari Aster’s sophomore film, “Midsommar” (2019), noting that Aster’s next film is supposed to be a “nightmare comedy” rather than a horror/thriller.

At the end of the discussion, the Oneonta Film Club discussed their plans for their next few discussions. Although there are no solidified plans yet, everyone agreed that “Midsommar” might be a nice follow-up to “Hereditary.”

One attendee described “Hereditary” as a “satisfying but uncomfortable” film. Viewers will be delighted by re-watches because the more gruesome scenes won’t come as a shock. Give “Hereditary” a watch – or three, to really take in this cinematic journey.

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