I initially tried watching the horror film Hereditary about a week ago.
“Let’s watch it the dark,” my brother says, poking my arm. He is done painting. He is feeling good after taking his nightly pain medication.
I am not sure. I get really scared during scary movies. I am skeptical but maybe it will be okay. I’ll be brave. Like an adult. Not some baby. I watch up until the part where Toni Collette goes through her mothers books. We are something like ten minutes into the film. Toni looks at the books her mother used to own while she was alive. Books on the occult. Toni quickly puts the books back in the box and shuts the lights. But she hesitates. She turns around to take one last look at her mother’s bedroom and there, in the dark, she spots something in the corner. The outline of an old woman. Faint. Barely there; barely anything. This figure sits in the corner of the room. It just sits there. Holy shit. Toni Collette quickly turns on the light and sees that there is nothing in the room.
“Nope,” I say. “Nope. Not happening.” I shut off the movie while my brother groans.
“Too scary.” I tell him. “I can’t watch this in the dark.”
The next time we put on the movie, it is the middle of the afternoon. I need to watch it in the daytime once so that I can watch in the dark again another time. My brother laughs but he gets it. He too sees things the dark. We don’t believe in ghost but we sure as fuck see things in the dark.
(Few spoilers to follow. I promise).
Hereditary is fucking unsettling. From the set pieces designed to reflect back at us the mini doll houses speckled throughout the family home to the visibly detached, half blinking expressions of the characters as they navigate both pain and loss, this is a creepy film about a creepy family. And you don’t get to choose your family. Thunderous are all the words that no one says. The grandmother’s death is announced via obituary at the very start of the movie. We never meet the grandmother but the weight of her presence sinks like a dark stone throughout every scene following her death. I found myself deeply connected with the Toni Collette character (Annie). Perhaps if I were younger, filled with all that youthful teenage angst, my sensibilities might have aligned closer with the teenage son. Or maybe the disturbed daughter. Maybe. I don’t think so. There is an other worldly distant stare to Annie. She lives a very public life - the one of mother, wife, successful artist - and then she lives an even more complicated inner life. This is her hidden life. It is a place that she alone can grace in the sanctum of her studio. She recreates miniatures. These miniatures are painstaking replicas of her home while other must be replicas of places she has visited. We wonder if they all mean something to her. They must. She recreates even the smallest of detail in each room, working with the finest of tools, piecing together the mini furniture or scribbling an invisible etching on a wall. Annie is a distant person. Connected and unconnected. Switched On and Off, like a light in the middle of one of these rooms. Annie is a bad mother. Or else she thinks of herself as one. There are incidents which are glossed over and they are troubling. But the sense we get as the audience - creepy voyeurs that we are- is that Annie is trying to get at the root of what is wrong with her. Her past, and then her mother’s death, other deaths (no spoilers), only further solidity her feelings of alienation. Grief is a terrible thing. It has a way of opening up old wounds and reminding us that things aren’t quite right. And they have never quite been right. There was always something wrong with Annie. Like a deep fissure which is ever so subtly widening on the surface of a great plain, Annie is haunted by her family. Her father, brother, mother. This is the past that she cannot quite make sense of except to describe the bare bone facts, like the surface of her miniature rooms. And then there is the family she has now. Her husband, her son and daughter. These too are made into replicas as Annie creates miniature versions of her family. Incidents are recreated and analyzed from a distance as if in doing this, Annie will unlock the key to the madness that dwells within. What is all this? Who are these people? Family. This is her family. There is something so wrong with her family.
God. Fucking family. I can relate to Toni Collette. I can relate to the neediness that is family. I can relate to the fear, anger. resentment. I can relate to the undying - or is dying ? - love that is family. I am the eldest of my all my siblings. Beyond Peter, who is the youngest, there are two other siblings. We don’t all talk anymore. I don’t know what I think about when I think about family. There is a weight to the word and it is very much in the spectrum of the word hereditary. I think of my father and I think of my mother. We are a very specific and complicated bi-product of people we not sure anyone of us will ever understand. It is something that my brother and I talk about all the time. Our strange and complicated history. The history that made us. The same history which is plagued by addiction and mental illness. Among all us siblings, there are hereditary traits which have already manifested themselves and then there are others which have yet to show up. They may still veer their ugly heads in our directions or bursts from our bellies like the proverbial baby xenomorph in Alien. You have to know the signs. And then, I wonder, what if I were to have children? Motherhood is a thing that has the potential to yield something special, unique and beautiful. But it is scary too. And there is perhaps a very palpable disgust with the curse that is motherhood. We can’t choose our family but we don’t get to choose our children either. It is scary to imagine what we have the potential to give birth to. Every serial killer out there was born to a mother. Every psycho and monster that we read about or watch endlessly on a loop via true crime documentaries had a family. Sure, a lot of them had terrible families. Absent fathers or wicked mothers. But some of them grew up in a perfectly ordinary home with parents who loved them deeply. Whose fault is it when we give birth to something scary? Is it the mother? Is it family and heritage and our histories….I don’t know. I guess we watch horror movies in order to make sense of it all. Hereditary. The Omen. Rosemary’s Baby. Maybe adoption is your thing. No worries. The Orphan is there to strike a match and burn your house down regardless of how you feel because there is no perfect way to make your family. It’s all really fucked up and beautiful, all at once. Watch it in the dark or watch in the light of the day. It doesn’t matter. I don’t get scared by latex masks. The movies that scare me are the ones that feel inevitable. We can’t choose family. We are born into this mix of gooey, scary love and you got to make sense of the mess or put together the pieces that no one wants to talk about it. This is family. All of us bowing to each other like the Kings and Queen of this splendid and universally acknowledge Hell. But sometimes we have fun, don’t we?
Happy Friday, my lovelies. Give your mother a kiss from me.