If you saw the mind-breaking Hereditary this weekend you may be asking yourself What the heck do I watch now? Welcome to Perfect Pairings, a recurring editorial column that matches new theatrical releases with complementary horror films for a perfect at-home Double Feature. If you’ve been looking to broaden your knowledge of the genre or discover a new favourite, you are in the right place.
While the most natural pairing for director Ari Aster’s debut feature is actually Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, I’ll go out on a ledge and assume the vast majority of horror cinephiles have already seen it. Nicholas Roeg’s 1973 feature Don’t Look Now is no-less celebrated, but it doesn’t have the same kind of historical cultural cache that the Mia Farrow film has.
Both Hereditary and Don’t Look Now are implicitly domestic dramas masquerading as horror. Each film contains a number of disturbing, uncomfortable sequences, but the underlying horror is driven by familial relationships and, more specifically, grief.
When Ellen, the matriarch of the Graham family, passes away, her daughter Annie (Toni Collette)’s family begins to unravel cryptic and increasingly terrifying secrets about their ancestry. The more they discover, the more they find themselves trying to outrun the sinister fate they seem to have inherited. Read our spoiler-free review here.
Don’t Look Now (1973)
John (Donald Sutherland) and Laura (Julie Christie) Baxter are living in Venice when they meet a pair of elderly sisters, one of whom claims to be psychic. She insists that she sees the spirit of the Baxters’ daughter, who recently drowned. Laura is intrigued, but John resists the idea. He, however, seems to have his own psychic flashes…
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The death that kick-starts Hereditary occurs off-screen before the start of the film. It is immediately clear that the Graham family isn’t working through the traditional motions of grief following the loss of its matriarch. in fact, the relationship between Ellen and her daughter Annie (Toni Collette) was contentious and potentially even abusive. Annie’s daughter Charlie (standout Milly Shapiro) was closer to her grandmother and seems more affected than the other family members. A condition that extends to seeing visions of the dead woman near the family home and at school.
Hereditary‘s supernatural occurrences complements its oppressive, dread-filled atmosphere which is filled with tortured family histories and discomforting imagery such as life-like figurines inside dioramas and dead animals. The film plays like a mystery early on, demanding that the audience pay close attention in order to unpack the nature of its familial dysfunction. Even after a few of Collette’s confessional monologues, it is clear that there is more affecting the Grahams – and by extension driving the narrative’s supernatural secrets.
Don’t Look Now traffics in the same uncomfortable territory, though at the outset it comes wrapped more in a blanket of grief than mystery. The film opens with a tragedy as John (Donald Sutherland) discovers that his young daughter has drowned in the pond behind the family’s isolated country home. His marriage with Laura (Julie Christie) unravels over accusations of parental responsibility, and doesn’t appear to be in a much better place despite a time jump and a physical relocation to Venice.
Roeg’s supernatural element is similarly driven by visions of something that may or may not be there. Unlike the ghostly apparition of Ellen that haunts Charlie and her older brother Peter (Alex Wolff) in Hereditary, John is driven to the edge of madness by glimpses of his daughter in her trademark red raincoat. The fact that he now lives in a completely different location and that his daughter has been dead for years hardly matters; his desire to right a perceived wrong and repair his fractured family is so strong that he follows the red-coated figure into increasingly dangerous situations as an active serial killer haunts the city.
The mystery driving the plot of both Hereditary and Don’t Look Now require twisty narrative resolutions that I won’t spoil here. Don’t Look Now‘s climax solidified the film’s status as a cult classic in addition to Anthony Richmond’s sumptuous cinematography, and arguably one of the most provocative sex scenes in film history.
How audiences respond to Hereditary‘s conclusion should be fascinating to watch as the film arrives in theatres riding a wave of anticipation driven by ecstatic film festival reviews and a marketing campaign proclaiming it the scariest movie since The Exorcist. Having had the benefit of seeing Hereditary few weeks ago, I can say that it’s not an easy film to watch or to grapple with. Its approach is far more adult, its pacing is a slow-burn and its scares are less traditional than nearly every “Jump-Scare” horror film of the last few years.
The closest recent comparison is likely the distributor’s own The Witch. The polarizing period piece that naysayers (incorrectly) attempted to categorize as a historical drama absent of horror elements. Even if Hereditary isn’t initially embraced at the box office, it will undoubtedly go on to cult status. Like Don’t Look Now, it is most definitely a film that pays off on repeat viewings.
What is your Perfect Pairing for Hereditary? Let us know what you’re watching this weekend in the comments below, on Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, and in the Horror Fiends of Nightmare on Film Street Facebook group!