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 (like families being menaced by weird, twisted supernatural forces)—should you want to unsettle yourself even further.
Some Hereditary plot points do come up here, so just in case...
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 realize 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 neighborly 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’s not 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.
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 agonizingly 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?
If “scariest movie of the year” Hereditary—made by first-time feature writer and director Ari Aster—is the biggest horror debut of 2018, The Witch grabbed that title for 2015. 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.
The Babadook is inevitably going to come up anytime 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 mom Amelia are different than Annie’s, there’s definitely some shared turf between these two grieving, traumatized 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.
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’ve been surrounding them the entire time.
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.