This article contains spoilers.
Hereditary was released by A24 Films on June 8, 2018 to widespread critical acclaim. Still holding an impressive 89 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, Hereditary has already built a reputation of being one of the scariest films of all time, especially impressive considering the movie premiered at the Sundance Film Festival less than a year ago.
Audience reaction to the movie has been mixed, though not abysmal. Rotten Tomatoes also reported that nearly 60 percent of audience members gave Hereditary a positive review.
While a minority of movie-goers may have been extremely vocal detractors, that seemed to have little effect on Hereditary’s box-office performance, which has now surpassed the Oscar-winner for the best picture of 2016, Moonlight, in terms of domestic box-office success for A24 Films.
SlashFilm just reported that in terms of international box-office figures, Hereditary has now broken records for every A24 movie in history, dethroning the previous holder of that title, Lady Bird.
Box Office Mojo currently reports Hereditary has a domestic box-office total of over $43 million and a worldwide total of about $77.5 million. However, once figures for this weekend are tallied up and applied to Hereditary’s worldwide average, that number is expected to officially top Lady Bird‘s worldwide gross of just over $78 million.
What’s most surprising about Hereditary being such a hit for A24 Films is that the film is considered to be extremely disturbing by many. R-rated horror films like Stephen King’s It and Saw have been doing well by box-office standards for some time. Saw grossed more than $100 million worldwide, while its sequel took in more than $147 million. Saw was infamous for being particularly gory, and included scenes of a tormented Cary Elwes sawing his own foot off, among other horrifying images.
But Hereditary, while gory, isn’t just famous for its depictions of brutal on-screen violence. Rather, it’s famous for its tone, psychological implications, and willingness to break specific unspoken mainstream horror movie taboos.
Generally speaking, mainstream horror films do not take the risk of depicting explicit violence toward the children. However, when they do, such as the case with the 2017 adaptation if It, or even going all the way back to the first adaptation of Pet Sematary, on-screen deaths of children were handled in such a way that audiences didn’t have to witness images as brutal as those depicted in Hereditary.
In It, while a child named Georgie’s arm is bitten off by Pennywise, audiences do not see the actual murder take place beyond that, as the camera slowly pans away from a storm drain before they can.
Hereditary took no such approach to depict the corpse of an 11-year-old girl, as the camera jarringly fixes on her decapitated, ant-covered head, which lies in the middle of a road. Rather than cutting away quickly, the camera focused on the image for some time.
Furthermore, Hereditary takes an abstract, psychological approach to its horror, a move generally reserved for more independent releases and not generally believed to be as easily marketable by major film studios.
With A24 having released previous box-office-success horror films like The Witch, which also refused to flinch at brutal implications and similarly leave much of the horror to audience minds, it seems that A24 could be redefining what makes a successful horror film.