Hereditary (2018) – 31 Days of Horror: Oct 14

by Jovial Jay

Today’s film, Hereditary, is a recommendation. We’ll see if blood is really thicker than water!

I’m not sure what to think about Hereditary after viewing the trailer. It definitely has a horror film vibe, but I can’t tell if there’s more going on.

Before Viewing

In the trailer, Toni Collette’s character has just lost her mother. She gives a eulogy to “many strange new faces” which is an odd thing to say at a funeral service. It appears that she creates architectural models of her home, with little figures representing her family.

The daughter is constantly making an odd clicking noise with her tongue, and worries about what will happen to her when Collette’s character dies. There are then lots of shots of characters doing weird things, one is on fire, another may be stuck on the ceiling banging their head. And then the son, sees an evil reflection of himself at school, and smashes his head into the desk, apparently not of his own accord. It seems like maybe the dead grandmother is possessing him. But it’s hard to tell. The film gives of a weird vibe, so I’m not sure what to expect. Maybe craziness runs in the family?

Presented below is the Trailer for the film.

Spoiler Warning - Halloween

After Viewing

Hereditary may not seem like much on first blush, but it’s a complex psychological and occult thriller. The film opens with the funeral of Ellen, the mother of Annie (Toni Collette). She notes how secretive her mother was and that she doesn’t recognize many of the faces at the funeral. Both she and her mother wear a necklace with a strange sigil on it. She also mentions that she and her mother have been estranged for a while.

About a week after the funeral, Annie’s husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) receives a call that Ellen’s grave has been desecrated. He chooses not to tell Annie. She believes she sees her mother in her workshop, but shakes it off as grief. Annie attends a local support group the next night and speaks about her family’s problems. There has been a history of mental illness in her family, her mother having DID, and her brother committed suicide when she was younger.

Annie’s son Peter (Alex Wolff) wants to attend a party. He lies to his mom about the nature of the event, and she forces him to take his younger sister Charlie (Milly Shapiro). Peter feels put upon, as Charlie is a handful – socially withdrawn, and slightly weird. At the party, Charlie has an allergic reaction after eating a cake with nuts in it. Peter races her to the hospital. He swerves to avoid a dead animal in the road, and accidentally decapitates his sister, who has leaned out the window to get more air. Peter goes home and walks into his bedroom without informing anyone, almost in a fugue state.

Annie discovers the body in the car the next morning and spends days grieving. She returns to the support group but does not enter. She is flagged down by Joan (Ann Dowd) who recognized her from the previous support meeting, and offers her a kind ear to talk to whenever. Annie sees Joan a few days later in a parking lot, and is invited back to her house to take part in a seance.

Convinced by this, Annie performs a seance with her family to connect with Charlie. From there weird things start happening. Annie begins sleepwalking again and having weird nightmares. Peter has an incident at school where he breaks his nose by slamming his face repeatedly into his desk. Annie then discovers the decapitated body of her mother in the attic, and realizes that Joan is actually a friend of her mothers. She attempts to destroy Charlie’s journal, which is a link to the deceased, but in trying to burn it, Steve is immolated instead.

Annie becomes possessed and is able to float around the house. Peter, awakening from a nightmare, runs from his mother – who he believes is trying to kill him. He witnesses her sawing her own head off with piano wire, before he leaps from the attic window. A light enters his body and he makes his way to the family tree house, where Joan and a number of other older naked people are worshipping an effigy of Paimon, a king of Hell. Peter has been possessed by Paimon and will provide good fortune to the coven for bringing him to the world.

My mom was old and she wasn’t all together there at the end. She had DID…and dementia. And my father died when I was a baby from starvation, because he had psychotic depression. My older brother had schizophrenia and when he was 16 he hanged himself in my mother’s bedroom.” – Annie

Hereditary is a great, spooky film in the same category as 70’s classics Rosemary’s Baby, The Amityville Horror and The Devil’s Rain.

In speaking to some friends about this film, it seems that the ending might be a little strange, or that it comes from nowhere. I disagree. But to see how it all fits together, there’s a certain amount of reading between the lines that needs to be done. Basically Annie’s life, and those of her children have been directed for a long time by Ellen’s coven. The demon Paimon that they are trying to summon, prefers male bodies. If you look a the history of men in the family, it’s decidedly bleak.


Hereditary (2018) – The sigil worn by Annie, and her mother, that also appears throughout the film.

Annie’s father starved himself to death, to avoid being a shell for this demon. Her brother hanged himself, and his suicide note claimed that the mother was “trying to put people inside” him. Annie mentions that she purposefully kept Peter away from her mother, but that Charlie (who Ellen wished was a boy) was her favorite. I would argue that Paimon has been living in Charlie throughout the film, and the events are carefully orchestrated to get the demon into Peter’s body. From the accident with the car (the strange sigil – a symbol of Paimon – appears on the pole that decapitates Charlie), to Joan introducing Annie to the seance (which is a way to summon the spirit of Paimon), all have been at the will of the coven.

Annie’s job is as an artist making dioramas of scenes from her life. The film opens in her workshop, with a slow push-in on a model of her house, specifically Peter’s room. As we get closer, Steve enters to awaken Peter so they can leave for the funeral. The transition is seamless (and can be seen in the trailer above). Given that many shots in the film show her working on these scenes, especially some scenes that the film portrays, these dioramas portray important backstory on her character’s life. The one that adds the most is one she spins around in disgust at one point, allowing the camera to focus on it. It looks like Annie’s bedroom with Annie in the bed, holding a baby, and her mother offering a breast to feed the baby. That’s really creepy!

Finally, Toni Collette really does an amazing job on this film. Her characters family history of mental illness, is always lurking in her performance. Up until the final possession of her character, there were moments the viewer is uncertain if she maybe is just going crazy, and she is the one who has dug up her mother’s grave. There are actually a lot of good performances, and the film sustains the energy over 2h7m, which is not an easy feat with horror films. Definitely a good film to watch on a dark evening!

Assorted Musings

  • Charlie mentions how her grandmother had wanted her to be a boy. When Annie finds Ellen’s box of old welcome mat’s, one says Peter and the other Charles.
  • The foreshadowing of Charlie’s decapitation is built into the scene where she cuts the head off the dead bird. Also, she’s eating what appears to be a Dove Silky Smooth Milk Chocolate Bar.
  • Alex Wolff (Peter) was in another film about people switching bodies. He played the younger version of The Rock, in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.
  • Toni Collette has played the mother in at least two other horror films: The Sixth Sense, and the 2011 version of Fright Night (coming later this October)!

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