New Horror Movie Explores the Hereditary Nature of Mental Illness

A new horror movie, “Hereditary,” directed by Ari Aster, puts a supernatural twist on the topic of heredity. Specifically, the role heredity plays in passing down mental illness and distress.

Toni Collette plays Annie Graham, a woman coping with the death of her mother. In the trailer, Annie describes her mother, Ellen Graham, as a secretive and private woman. According to reviewers, Ellen had dissociative identity disorder and eventually, as she got older, severe dementia. Ellen’s death isn’t the first loss in Annie’s life. Her father struggled with depression and died when she was young. Her brother had schizophrenia and died when he was 16.

It’s only when Annie’s two children, Charlie (Milly Shapiro) and Peter (Alex Wolff), start acting bizarrely, that she is forced to face her family history head-on. As one reviewer from Rolling Stone said, “a long history of mental instability can be more dangerous than any possession a demon can manage.”

Without seeing the film, it’s hard to say whether the director is making a point specifically about mental illness — or about the traits we inherit from our family in general. Alissa Wilkinson from Vox wrote:

Regardless of what kind of family we come from, the idea that we actually don’t control our own destinies is truly horrifying. We’d like to believe we’re the captains of our own ships, the masters of our own fate — that we can overcome our DNA and our upbringing to become whoever we want to be. (To that point, there’s a way to read Hereditary as being about the fear of inheriting a parent’s mental illness, and while that’s definitely not its only point, it adds an extra layer of fear to the film.)

It’s important to point out that while mental illness does appear to have a hereditary component, you be can be an amazing parent if you live with a mental illness. If you have a family history of mental illness, whether or not you want to be a parent is a personal choice. No fictional horror movie should change that.

“Hereditary” hits theaters June 8. You can watch the trailer below:

Screenshot via A24

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