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Unpacking the Secrets of the ‘Hereditary’ Screenplay: A Deep Dive into the Crafting of a Modern Horror Classic

Unpacking the Secrets of the ‘Hereditary’ Screenplay: A Deep Dive into the Crafting of a Modern Horror Classic

When “Hereditary” hit theaters in 2018, it quickly gained a reputation as one of the most chilling and unsettling horror films in recent memory. While the film’s eerie atmosphere and terrifying performances were certainly major factors in its success, much of its acclaim can also be attributed to the strength of its screenplay. Penned by writer-director Ari Aster, the “Hereditary” screenplay is a masterclass in slow-burning terror, suspenseful pacing, and expertly crafted character arcs. In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at the key elements of the “Hereditary” screenplay and explore what makes it such a standout example of horror screenwriting.

Establishing the Family Dynamics: Introducing the Graham Family

One of the most impressive feats of the “Hereditary” screenplay is its ability to establish a complex family dynamic within the first few scenes. The film’s opening shot sets the tone for what’s to come, as we see a miniature version of the Graham family’s house slowly come into focus. From there, we’re introduced to each member of the family, each of whom plays a crucial role in the story’s development.

Annie Graham, played brilliantly by Toni Collette, is the matriarch of the family. As an artist who creates miniature models of real-life scenes, she’s a deeply empathetic character who is struggling with the recent loss of her own mother. Meanwhile, Steve, Annie’s husband, is a stoic and practical man who provides a much-needed grounding presence amidst the chaos that unfolds.

Their teenage son, Peter, is struggling with the pressures of high school and the weight of his family’s emotional baggage. Finally, there’s Charlie, the youngest member of the Graham family and a pivotal figure in the story. Played by Milly Shapiro, Charlie is an odd and unsettling child who seems to be in tune with something otherworldly.

Through Aster’s skillful writing, we quickly come to understand the complexities and tensions that exist within the Graham family. From Annie’s fraught relationship with her own mother to Peter’s strained dynamic with his parents, each character is given a distinct personality and backstory that informs their actions throughout the film.

Ultimately, it’s these family dynamics that give the film its emotional weight and make the horror all the more devastating. As the story progresses and the family is pushed to their limits, we see just how fragile these relationships can be and how easily they can crumble under the weight of grief and trauma.

By establishing such a rich and complex family dynamic early on, the “Hereditary” screenplay sets the stage for a story that is both horrifying and deeply human. As the terror unfolds, we feel a genuine investment in the fates of these characters, making their struggles all the more harrowing.

Building Tension Through Foreshadowing and Symbolism

One of the hallmarks of great horror storytelling is the use of foreshadowing and symbolism to build tension and create a sense of dread. In the case of “Hereditary,” writer-director Ari Aster employs these techniques masterfully, using subtle visual cues and references to hint at the darkness that’s to come.

From the miniature models that Annie creates to the recurring imagery of decapitation and severed heads, the film is full of symbolic motifs that add layers of meaning to the story. These elements are introduced gradually throughout the film, creating a sense of unease that only grows more intense as the story progresses.

One of the most effective examples of foreshadowing in the “Hereditary” screenplay is the recurring symbol of a king’s crown. This image appears repeatedly throughout the film, from the necklace that Charlie wears to the design on a doormat outside a stranger’s house. As the story unfolds, we begin to understand the significance of this symbol and its ties to the film’s supernatural elements.

Another example of Aster’s use of symbolism can be seen in the recurring appearance of ants. At first, these insects seem like an innocuous detail, but as the story unfolds, we come to understand their deeper significance. The ants serve as a metaphor for the destructive forces that threaten to tear the Graham family apart, and their presence only becomes more ominous as the story progresses.

In addition to its use of symbolism, the “Hereditary” screenplay also employs a number of clever visual techniques to build tension. From the use of mirrors and reflections to the haunting imagery of Annie’s miniatures, the film is full of subtle details that add to its eerie atmosphere.

Perhaps the most memorable of these visual techniques is the repeated use of slow zooms and pans to create a sense of unease. In several key scenes, the camera lingers on a seemingly innocuous detail, gradually zooming in to reveal something deeply unsettling. This technique is used to great effect in the film’s climax, as the camera slowly pans across a room to reveal the full horror of what’s happening.

Crafting a Climax that Resonates: The Final Act of “Hereditary”

The final act of “Hereditary” is a masterclass in horror storytelling, building on the tension and dread that’s been simmering throughout the film to deliver a climax that is both devastating and unforgettable. From the stunning visual effects to the emotionally charged performances, every element of the final act is crafted to leave a lasting impact on audiences.

One of the most striking aspects of the film’s climax is its use of visual effects to create a sense of otherworldly horror. As the supernatural elements of the story are brought to the forefront, we’re treated to a series of stunning and unsettling images, from levitating bodies to the appearance of grotesque and demonic figures.

Another key element of the final act is the performances of the film’s cast. Toni Collette, in particular, delivers a tour-de-force performance as Annie, conveying a range of emotions from grief to terror to despair with a stunning degree of nuance and depth. Alex Wolff, who plays Peter, also gives a standout performance in the film’s final moments, conveying a sense of desperation and horror that’s palpable onscreen.

Perhaps most impressive, however, is the way in which the final act ties together the various threads of the story in a way that feels both inevitable and devastating. As the full scope of the horror is revealed, we come to understand the true nature of the Graham family’s struggle, and the toll that it’s taken on them.

But while the final act of “Hereditary” is undeniably bleak, it’s also emotionally resonant in a way that few horror films manage to achieve. By grounding the horror in a story of familial grief and trauma, Aster has created a film that is not just scary, but deeply affecting on a human level.

Writing Horror that Lingers: Themes and Motifs in the “Hereditary” Screenplay

At its core, “Hereditary” is a film about grief, trauma, and the way in which these experiences can consume and destroy us. It’s a theme that runs through the entire screenplay, underpinning the horror that unfolds and adding a layer of emotional depth to the story.

One of the most striking aspects of the film’s exploration of grief is its use of loss as a catalyst for supernatural horror. By tying the supernatural elements of the story to the loss of loved ones, Aster creates a sense of existential dread that lingers long after the film has ended.

Another key theme in the “Hereditary” screenplay is the idea of family legacy and the way in which our actions can reverberate through generations. From the sins of Annie’s mother to the tragic consequences of her own choices, the film explores the idea that we are all products of our familial history, for better or for worse.

A related motif in the screenplay is the idea of inherited mental illness, which is hinted at throughout the film and eventually becomes a central element of the story. By exploring the way in which mental illness can be passed down through generations, Aster creates a sense of unease and unpredictability that’s integral to the horror of the story.

Another motif that runs throughout the screenplay is the idea of performance and the way in which we all play roles in our lives. From Annie’s work as a miniature artist to Peter’s experiences in school and Charlie’s strange behavior, the film explores the idea that the masks we wear can conceal darker truths about ourselves.

A related theme in the screenplay is the idea of control, and the way in which our desire for it can lead us to do terrible things. Whether it’s Annie’s attempts to control the course of her life or Peter’s struggle to maintain control in the face of unspeakable horror, the film explores the idea that the more we try to control our lives, the more out of control they become.

Ultimately, what makes the themes and motifs of the “Hereditary” screenplay so effective is the way in which they all tie together to create a sense of interconnectedness and inevitability. By exploring the dark corners of human nature and the way in which our experiences shape who we are, Aster has crafted a horror story that lingers in the mind long after the credits have rolled.

Click here to read the script.