Every scary movie is called the scariest movie in years. “Hereditary” really could be

Stay away if you have automatonophobia.
Stay away if you have automatonophobia.
Image: A24
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Hereditary, the new horror film from A24 that comes out on Friday (June 8), is being called “the scariest movie in years” by a number of critics and entertainment journalists.

But that’s nothing new.

In 2013, The Conjuring was the scariest movie in years. In 2014, it was The Babadook. In 2015, It Follows. Already in 2018, A Quiet Place earned the illustrious honor. How can Hereditary be the scariest movie in years, when the scariest movie in years came out just two months ago?

The horror genre has long been prone to hyperbolic pronouncements. The very nature of the genre is predicated on exaggeration, so it’s no surprise that its enthusiasts react emphatically to each critically acclaimed offering. And, in fact, many of these movies are indeed quite good. Lower budgets (and thus lower financial pressures) have enabled talented young horror filmmakers to experiment and take risks that tentpole Hollywood franchises beholden to assertive fans cannot. The result is a thriving genre, both commercially and critically. (Jordan Peele’s best director Oscar for Get Out marked an especially historic moment for the genre.)

So there’s no way of knowing which recent scary movie is the true “scariest movie in years.” Maybe they all are. Maybe The Conjuring was in 2013, only for It Follows to best it two years later.

Hereditary, though, feels different from the rest. The blurbs calling it “the scariest movie in years” read less like a pre-packaged marketing gimmick and more like earnest assessments by those who have seen it. The positive buzz from when the film debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January has turned into a deafening roar a week before its release. It boasts a 98% Rotten Tomatoes critics score (41 positive reviews to a single negative one), and many reviewers point out that the film is, among other things, genuinely terrifying on a visceral level.

The directorial debut of Ari Aster, Hereditary stars Toni Collette as Annie, the mother of a family that begins to descend into chaos following the death of Annie’s mother, Ellen, the matriarch of the family. The film’s deeply unsettling trailer doesn’t give away much more than that in terms of plot, though some of its images, sans context, are still horrific. (Stay away if you have automatonophobia.)

If “scariest movie in years” designations could be counted as a metric, this film is scoring them at an unprecedented rate. Googling the phrase right now basically just brings you to a list of articles about Hereditary. USA Today, The Independent, and Thrillist have all used variations of the phrase to describe the film. AV Club took it a step further, calling Hereditary “the most traumatically terrifying horror movie in ages.” You got that, folks? Not just years. Ages.

How long will Hereditary retain the one true “scariest movie in years” crown? Probably not long: The horror genre is on fire, and another film is likely to supplant it before long. In sequel-happy Hollywood, the next one to earn the epithet may even be Hereditary 2.