hereditary (2018) and its deleted scenes: notes on grief

Some of Hereditary’s deleted scenes have recently been circulated and can be seen here.

[spoilers]

For a film that deals with as much spiritual and visual horror as it does, Hereditary’s dissection of grief isn’t overshadowed but enforced.

Horror seldom realistically presents grief. Considering how dominantly and graphically it portrays death, it’s surprising that something that naturally succeeds death is often totally unaccounted for within the horror universe. Maybe the absence of grief in horror is what separates it from tragedy. But even within its own genre, the absence of grief renders horror films unrealistic at best and ridiculous at worst. Sometimes this absence is structural, for example, perhaps a slasher movie doesn’t have time to pause its killing spree if the spree is to continue or the plot is to ever be resolved. Equally, a pause, or a moment of grief, would deconstruct its pace, and pace is necessary for a subgenre that so heavily relies upon visuals and sensorial terror to frighten its audiences.

Conventionally, horror films offer moments of relief in their construction in order to emphasise the horror when it happens and to prevent desensitising its audience from unrelenting scares. These moments, breaks, are necessary. Hereditary’s construction, however, is different. Important (and expected) moments of relief are replaced with insight into grief and guilt. Quiet spaces are inhabited by trauma, and we are routinely excused from visual horror only to witness grief and guilt manifest. And we are not left desensitised and unimpacted because the relief is not replaced with more visual horror, but instead with a psychological parallel that renders us traumatised within the first thirty minutes.

Hereditary’s exploration of grief, in the deleted scenes and throughout the film, is inextricably tied to the pace and the construction of the film as a whole. The narrative of grief and its refusal to offer any moments of relief for the audience demonstrates the idea that pace doesn’t have to manically keep up alongside visual horror in order for a film to be frightening. For Hereditary, its terror lies in the uncomfortably realistic depictions of mourning and loss as our only respite from the brutality of its visual horror: a ritualistic cult, decapitations and possession.

The portraits of grief and guilt as a structural replacement for moments of relief are what terrifies us because it creates a framework that leaves no room for any catharsis. It denies us any moment to purge our pity and fear in order to prepare for more discomfort. We remain in a permanent state of either being terrified or disturbed in a quiet alternation. What succeeds in Hereditary is its episodes of grief and guilt as our only antithesis to visual tragedy, both of which are unnervingly difficult to forget.

 

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