One of the Scariest Movies Ever Made is Even Scarier in IMAX

Hereditary

I drove two hours to see Hereditary when it was released in June 2018. The best kind of horror is shared horror. At the time, I was in graduate school, surrounded by wonderful people who, unfortunately, didn’t like horror all that much (a birthday trip with my cohort to see a Fathom Events release of The House on Sorority Row is a story for another day). The trailers sold me on a movie that would savagely make my head spin and terrify me to my very core. It was marketing, but it worked on me. Even better? Hereditary delivered.

Like The Babadook and A24’s other cult horror release, The Witch, and pretty much every high-profile horror movie, well, ever, Hereditary has been eclipsed by the culture. It’s Toni Collette memes, viral tweets (including one of my own), and jokes. Our modern culture is strangely fear-averse. There’s an undercurrent of what is maybe fan sanctimony, this prevailing idea that audiences, especially horror audiences, aren’t allowed to be scared by anything. Oh, Hereditary scared you? Weak sauce. Here are a dozen other movies that are mad scarier. Repeat that exchange ad nauseum until you want to stick your own head out the window and speed toward the nearest telephone pole.

I’m not here to contend with that, fortunately. I think Hereditary is one of the scariest movies ever made. Ari Aster’s Midsommar and Beau is Afraid might be more technically and stylistically accomplished, but Hereditary remains my favorite Aster feature. It’s a startling, evil debut, a movie so committed to its own nihilistic, paranormal goings-on, it lingers years after it’s over. My head did spin. I was sweating bullets and gripping my armrest. It transcends mere scares—it’s dreadful and has haunted me ever since.

A24 was kind enough to send me and a guest to revisit Hereditary in IMAX as part of their new A24 x IMAX Present Monthly Screening Series. The two teamed up to bring A24 titles to fans in IMAX for the first time ever. The inaugural release was the March screening of Alex Garland’s Ex Machina to promote the release of Garland’s Civil War this month. Hereditary followed, though interested fans can still catch The Safdie Brothers’ Uncut Gems on Wednesday, May 22. Tickets can be purchased here.

So, having seen Hereditary once in theaters and several more times at home, I wondered whether IMAX would make much of a difference. That is, could the scariest movie of all time really be that much scarier? Yes, it turns out. A lot.

‘Boutta get our shit rocked.

The IMAX Experience

Hereditary might lack the bright, pastoral setting of Midsommar or the illusory, hypnotic staging of Beau is Afraid, but stretched across an enormous screen, its audio augmented to perfection, Hereditary is still a Capital-C, Cinematic experience. From the opening scene where the camera zooms into a miniature bedroom, soon rendered real with Gabriel Byrne’s Steve waking son, Peter (Alex Wolff) up for his grandmother’s funeral, Hereditary revels in its visual excess. Quick cuts from day to night demand attention. Pyres in the fields, dusty desert roads at night—it’s never looked better. The biggest moments—beheaded corpses, bodies engulfed in flames—expectedly wow, but it’s the more intimate details that IMAX helps to punctuate.

Toni Collette’s Annie’s now-famous dinnertime monologue strikes a deeper chord. IMAX emphasizes the exhaustion on her face, the burgeoning rage as her lips and eyes contort and twist beyond what should be possible as months of concealed resentment spill forth all at once. Quieter moments haunt. Peter turns over in his bed and Aster focuses on his eyes, a single fleck of red cast over his pupil from the treehouse just outside his window. It’s where his mother is sleeping. It’s where she’s been sleeping since Charlie’s (Milly Shapiro) death.

Collectively, what it does is render Aster’s comparatively small world that much bigger, and consequently, that much more meaningful. Hereditary is a microcosm of suffocating grief, trauma horror before it was the Biggest Thing in genre spaces. A small, miniature world, amplified with specificity that, in turn, becomes universal.

Often, depressive cinema overwhelms with a deluge of grays and scowls, gargantuan, emotive moments to illustrate just how painful the process of bereavement is. And, sure, Hereditary has those (again, that monologue), but most often, like the scenes captured in Annie’s own miniature work, the smaller beats eviscerate more than anything more pronounced.

Shots of Peter lingering in silence outside of his parent’s bedroom as his mother sobs uncontrollably. Or, similarly, a protracted beat where Annie, off-screen, watches Peter muster up the courage to go inside after he’s home from school. It’s a paper house with eggshell floors constructed precariously. It’s so close to collapsing—as an audience, we’re begging for it to collapse—though grief is eternal, all-encompassing. It never will—Aster never gives us the satisfaction, the relief, the assuagement to break it and then rebuild it. It just decays until finally, at the end, the sharp slicing of flesh, a garrote through the neck, severs it for good.

Which is to say, while Hereditary had scared me several times before, I was scared anew in IMAX. Mileage with Aster’s debut, like the best horror films, no doubt varies. My partner, revisiting it for the first time since it premiered, remarked at the end, “I think I was too depressed to really be scared.” Hereditary is uncomfortable, and those most susceptible would likely find the IMAX experience all the more distressing. My stomach was in knots as Aster’s camera lingered on Peter’s face after Charlie’s accident. I begged for it to go away, for him to cut anywhere else. But it didn’t. Aster didn’t.

Instead, I was forced to reckon with a feeling that swelled not in my heart and not in my gut, but somewhere deeper, somewhere primordial, an ancestral realm of grief and pain. Somewhere maybe we’re all tethered to, where the worst feelings tend to live. Hereditary brought me there before, and scaled up for IMAX, it made revisiting it more terrifying than it ever had been before.

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