top of page
  • Cassidy

The Brilliance of Ari Aster's Aesthetics and Storytelling in A24 Film, Hereditary

Trigger warnings: topics of death and disturbing images

Hereditary is an A24 film that is based on the Ancient Athenian Tragedy of Heracles. The play follows Heracles and his family's curse. He eventually goes crazy and ends up killing his wife and children. It is a seemingly unavoidable ending and leaves the readers wondering why Heracles ignored all the warning signs that led to his family's demise.

Peter, the brother in Hereditary, is reading the tragedy of Heracles in school when weird things begin to happen in his own family.  This is the first aesthetic choice that gives insight into how the film, Hereditary, will play out.

Although at first, the school scenes seem like meaningless filler, as the film progresses, it becomes apparent that the Greek tragedy has a stronger hold on the film's overall story than what might have been previously believed.

Knowledge of the tragedy of Heracles will tell you who the catalyst of death is in the film, however, Ari Aster maneuvers the characters and visuals in a way that still has everyone shocked by the final scene.

Charlie is arguably the main character, but she is the first to die within the first 30 minutes of the film. She is not visually seen on screen past her death, apart from a few moments of apparition which is assumed to be simply a cognitive visualization of her memory and not actually the living Charlie. 

It is established early on that Charlie can’t cry or show much emotion. She is very matter-of-fact and views things in a very removed way. 

She is a likable character really for no other reason than you can see how misunderstood and scared she is all the time. You find yourself rooting for her to be the last one standing, simply to spite those who mistreat her. However, her death comes as a rather shocking blow and leaves the audience wondering if she actually passed or if by some miracle she survived the accident.

At the time of Charlie’s accident, the cinematography remains focused on Charlie’s killer, her brother, Peter. He is horrified at how his attempt to save his sister’s life ended up being what killed her. He even goes as far as asking her body if she is okay. There is of course no response, but Peter is unable to accept that she is really gone. He drives home and goes inside to bed without ever turning and looking back to see his sister’s remains.

You can see him visually shaking in the car and trying to remain calm while he holds back his tears. His utter shock from the gravity of the situation leaves him unable to process what happened, and he does what anyone in his situation would do, not react.

The camera remains on Peter and never gives us a visual of the accident at the time it took place.

Instead, the audience remains in shock with Peter and attempts to process what happened along with him.

(the following picture has been edited from its original form due to possibly disturbing content)

That feeling is then compounded by the short but jarring visual of the ants eating Charlie’s face. It comes at a moment when you believe that the accident was just so horrific that the filmmakers aren’t going to show you what happened.  When you see the outcome, you realize it was so much worse than you could have imagined. It makes this moment sickening, horrifying, and inexplicably morbid. 

Charlie is seen wearing three different colored outfits when she is alive. A black outfit, a white outfit, and an orange sweatshirt that appears red at the time of her death. 

From the point of Charlie's death, you see red and white used to foreshadow either death or something that ties back to the grandma that started the entire mess. 

Once you think you have cracked the color and death code, Ari Aster switches it up to reference small pieces of information at the beginning of the film and reminds you that this is all based on the Greek Tragedy. Subconsciously the audience picks up on this, which makes who survives that much more horrifying. You can visually see who will be the catalyst of death in this film, even from the beginning, but you refuse to believe it.

Everyone dies off one by one until it is only Peter left. Peter and his mom are the only two who are not wearing red at the time of their demise. It is then revealed that Peter is no longer actually alive but rather has become the host body to his sister’s soul. The film ends with him staring at the dead bodies of all of his family members. Peter, who has been an emotionally fragile character up until this moment simply stares at the horrific sight in front of him and has no emotional reaction. His inability to cry or react appropriately signifies to the audience that Charlie has taken over his body and Peter is no longer alive. 

The true horror of this film is that you realize at the end that you feel the same way as Charlie. You want to cry, you want to puke, you want to feel something, but for some reason, you can’t. All of the actions of the family whether for good or bad, led to this outcome. They were simply puppets in a play, with no free will; the same fate that befell Heracles

6 views0 comments


bottom of page