Thoughts On: Hereditary - Psycho-Symbolic Horror


Hereditary - Psycho-Symbolic Horror

Quick Thoughts: Hereditary (2018)

Tragedy and death haunt a family collapsing under the shadow of their own torment.

I was somewhat worried when gong into this film because of its acclaim and the manner in which it has so far been acclaimed. Reading things such as "This Generations' The Exorcist" triggered alarms in my head that horror movie reviewers usually trigger; as pretentious as this alarm is, it rings "these people don't know what they're talking about". And, not to pat myself on the back, but... I was right.

Hereditary is nothing like The Exorcist; it isn't even trying to scare you in the same way and has no real thematic or technical links. With only a little body horror, this relies mostly on tragedy and elements of supernatural horror to create symbolic and psychological terror. As a result, one of the most accurate comparisons that can be made would be between Hereditary and The Babadook, as this falls into the genre of psychological-but-not horror (which is typified in my eyes by Polanski's masterpiece, Repulsion). The psychological-but-not horror terrifies by going into the mind of its characters and by pulling terror out of the audience's mind; it uses psychological expressionism and surrealism to access the petrifying depths of characters' minds alongside symbolism and archetypes that release our own unconscious demons and have them dance before us.

The Babadook's psychological horror is found in the fact that it is about a mother and son dealing with the loss of their husband/father. Terrifying imagery then manifests on the screen and motivates all drama because of its psychological basis - which is to say that everything which occurs has a direct link to the impact that the husband/father's death has on the mother and son. The horror of the Babadook embodies the psychology of character and reaches out to the audience with symbolism. The most direct and central symbol of the film is the Babadook itself - which is an embodiment of the monster that the father has become in the minds of the family he left behind. The Babadook is itself an onomatopoeia that signifies the car crash that killed the father: the BA-BA-DOOK of the car flipping over, yet also the BA-BA-DOOK of the tragedy knocking on the door of the bereaved family's home. It is because we unconsciously recognise this manifest shadow of the mother and son's unconscious mind that we are terrified by it. And thus our psychology is linked to the characters', and what we can call psycho-symbolic (rather than psychological-but-not) horror arises.

I use the example of The Babadook to imply the way in which Hereditary should be approached. This is not a body horror, rather, a psycho-symbolic horror. To come to grips with the film, one must then pay attention to the drama that the psychology of characters is constructing, and how this is symbolised on screen in terms of horror and monsters.

My closing notes are only going to be a firm recommendation to see this film. It is a brilliant horror movie - the class of my favourite kind - that I was so pleased to see take many risks and secure an ending as open and expressive as it did. I will certainly be re-watching and talking more about this in the future. For now, I will say no more.

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