5 Years Ago, an Unknown Director Made the Best Cult Thriller of the Century — And Created a New Genre

5 Years Ago, an Unknown Director Made the Best Cult Thriller of the Century — And Created a New Genre

Five years ago, I wrote my first movie review for this website. It was my first week as Inverse’s new entertainment editor, and, in an act of kindness (or perhaps, in hindsight, some gentle hazing) one of my writers invited me to a screening for a buzzy new indie thriller from an unknown director. My first movie review headline? “So Good I Never Want to See It Again

That movie was Ari Aster’s Hereditary, released in theaters on June 8, 2018. The story of a family forced to mourn the loss of a young daughter infused with surreal demonic-cult horror touched down like a lightning bolt. Aster immediately became a rising star, who followed up his first film with the shaggier (but equally affecting) Midsommar and then the confounding odyssey Beau Is Afraid.

But Hereditary’s legacy is bigger than its director. The A24 movie redefined the entire genre, unleashing to a deluge of unique indie horror that’s still flowing today.

Hereditary stars Toni Colette as Annie Graham (a mother of two and a successful artist who specializes in dollhouse-sized replicas of houses and homes) but the true scene stealer is Milly Shapiro as Charlie Graham (a troubled young girl who treats bird corpses like toys). The movie starts at grandma’s funeral, but it really kicks into high gear when a series of unfortunate events ultimately lead to [SPOILERS AHEAD] Charlie getting decapitated in a freak accident.

Once again, the family tries to grieve, but Ari Aster has other ideas. Turns out, grandma isn’t as dead as she seems and was actually part of a cult that worshipped a demon called Paimon. By the end of the movie, Annie is fully possessed, leading to an incredible, bone-chilling performance from Colette that, in a better world, would have won her all the movie awards that year.

The actress might have excelled at shrieking like a monster and sawing her own head off (yes, that happens in the movie), but what drew her to the film was its more relatable elements.

“He [Aster] just really understood the dynamics in the family, has such an understanding of what it is to be human, what it is to experience loss,” Colette told The Verge in 2018.

It’s those family dynamics that ground Hereditary and make it more than just a scare-fest — even if the parts you remember most are the disturbing ones.

Hereditary uses horror to explore topics like family and the guilt associated with genetic disorders.


But while Hereditary remains a high watermark for both Ari Aster and A24 horror (at least in my opinion), it was just the beginning. At the time, Hereditary was A24's highest-grossing film ever (until Everything Everywhere All at Once) and plenty more movies tried to swim in its wake. Perhaps the best, most recent example is 2021’s Lamb, an Icelandic movie about a human-sheep hybrid child seemingly engineered for Ari Aster’s fans to enjoy.

To be fair, Aster didn’t exactly invent the A24 horror genre. Robert EggersThe Witch came first in 2015, which that director followed up with the equally disturbing The Lighthouse and then the ambitiously epic The Northman (forming a trio of history-based genre films). But nothing hits quite like Hereditary, a movie so dark and disturbing that you only need to see it once in your life.

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