Hereditary is no ordinary horror movie. It has some shocking frights, but its slow-burn dread is what burrows under your skin and haunts your nightmares. It’s a unique film, but there are other terrifying movies out there that also explore similar themes (such as families being menaced by weird, twisted supernatural forces) – should you want to unsettle yourself even further.
Toni Collette, star of Hereditary, making the same face you made while watching Hereditary. Photo: Reid Chavis (A24)
Some Hereditary plot points do come up here, so just in case…
What’s a little Satanic sacrifice when your acting career needs a boost? Photo: Paramount Pictures
1) Rosemary’s Baby
A few classic horror films lurk within Hereditary‘s DNA, notably Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist and The Shining. But Roman Polanski’s tale of a young New York City wife who’s targeted by witches to carry Satan’s baby probably looms the largest.
Like Annie, Toni Collette’s character in Hereditary, Rosemary doesn’t realise until too late that her life is being manipulated by demonic forces beyond her control. In both films, there’s a family betrayal of (literally) ungodly proportions, as well as a neighbourly figure who only appears well-meaning.
If you thought Ann Dowd was scary as Aunt Lydia on The Handmaid’s Tale, wait until you see her as a modern Minnie Castevet here – a sympathetic busybody who invites Annie over for therapeutic chit-chat and evil incantations.
Ghoulish family secrets are a horror-movie staple – and, like Hereditary, British genre master Pete Walker’s 1974 cult classic explores the idea that sinister traits can reverberate across generations.
After spending nearly 20 years in a psychiatric hospital, a convicted cannibal and her devoted, enabling husband are released, and it isn’t long before the murderer, now a grey-haired old lady, slips back into her old ways.
Things get even messier when the couple’s rebellious daughter – who’s been raised by her square older half-sister – finds out that the parents she’s always believed to be dead are actually alive… and that she shares her mother’s fiendish taste for human flesh.
3) The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Last year, a couple of filmmakers who aren’t necessarily known for horror took the genre on with gusto, mixing artful execution and big movie stars with disturbing themes and some truly repulsive imagery. One of those movies was Darren Aronofsky’s mother!, which was certainly something to behold, but the other was better (in addition to being better-suited for this list): Yorgos Lanthimos’ Killing of a Sacred Deer.
A teenage boy blames the doctor (Colin Farrell) who operated on his father for the man’s death, so he puts a curse on him. The doctor is given a choice: Murder one family member, and the rest will live – or do nothing and all four of them will succumb to an agonisingly show and painful death.
Unlike in Hereditary, the way in which the curse is cast is never explained; things just start happening, and frankly, it’s even more unsettling that way. Who needs a book of spells and rituals when you can just manifest intense misery out of thin air?
Get this young lady some butter… she’s earned it. Photo: A24
4) The Witch
A meticulously recreated study of rural Puritan life, writer-director Robert Eggers’ film is set hundreds of years before the events of Hereditary. But there are similarities – including a main character who has no agency over her increasingly horrible life, the knife-edge tension of a dysfunctional family, and the intrusive presence of the occult.
However, while Hereditary‘s Annie ultimately sees the supernatural world turn on her, the young heroine of The Witch escapes into it with glee.
5) The Babadook
The Babadook is inevitably going to come up any time there’s a horror movie with mother-child themes.
In Hereditary, Annie has some very dark feelings about motherhood – guilt, resentment, subconscious homicidal impulses – that we come to learn aren’t entirely her fault. While the circumstances (and the otherworldly tormentor) that bedevil beleaguered single mum Amelia are different than Annie’s, there’s definitely some shared turf between these two grieving, traumatised women.
Like Hereditary, The Babadook can be difficult to watch, especially if you find bratty children to be just as nightmarish as nefarious fantasy critters. But unlike Hereditary, The Babadook has a more conventional storyline, and it gives its insanely messy domestic crisis something resembling a tidy ending.
6) The Invitation
At a swanky house in the Hollywood Hills, a group of former friends who’ve drifted apart gather for a dinner party. To reveal too much more about the plot of The Invitation (directed by Karyn Kusama, who made Jennifer’s Body and Aeon Flux) would undermine the way the film builds its near-unbearable levels of paranoia and suspense – but it’s no spoiler to say the night doesn’t end well.
And like nearly everyone in Hereditary, the characters have no idea how vulnerable they are to the evils that have been surrounding them the entire time.
7) Of Dolls and Murder
Annie’s artworks – eerie, intricate dollhouse rooms and dioramas that she creates to mirror the increasingly unpleasant events of her real life – are one of Hereditary‘s most intriguing and clever elements.
But even if macabre miniatures don’t immediately pique your interest, you will still want to check out Of Dolls and Murder, a John Waters-narrated documentary by Susan Marks about Frances Glessner Lee and her realistically detailed tiny crime scenes, also known as the “Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death”.
They weren’t just creepy things to look at – they were important tools in the early days of forensic science, and are still used today to help train law enforcement to look for tiny details, clues and evidence.
Marks recently made a follow-up documentary, Murder in a Nutshell: The Frances Glessner Lee Story, which looks pretty fantastic, too. You can check out the trailer here and information on upcoming screenings here.