Shall I Explain Why Hereditary is One Big Mind Frack?
Tony Collette. Mrs. Collette to you. Collette, the brilliant actress, known for her roles in Muriel’s Wedding, About a Boy, and Little Miss Sunshine… has mainly been a light hearted and hilarious character in most of the films she’s starred in. Sixth Sense being the notable exception to that particular rule. But today I bring to you one incredible mind frack of a movie, hefted, and carried exclusively on Tony Collette’s back. Watching Collette’s character devolve and completely unravel as the movie progressed was an amazing adventure.
And let me be clear, I am not a horror movie fan. I don’t go looking for horror movies to try out. I occasionally go looking for the scariest books I can find, but that penchant doesn’t translate over to the cinema. If you read here often, then you know that I like movies in the mind job space. Independent films with lost a crazy twists and turns, and more importantly? I prefer movies where they make you think. So sci-fi mind jobs like classics like Primer, Upstream Color, or closed box thrillers like the recent 10×10, We’ve Forgotten More Than We Ever Knew, or In Darkness, are more the direction I like to go. You all can keep your Marvel movies or your mindless special effects. No thanks, I’d rather stick with my low budget mind jobs thank you very much.
Which brings us to Hereditary, and why the heck I am watching this film, of all films, if I don’t like horror films. Because, Oh Boy is this movie a horror film. Well, there are a couple of reasons. First is A24. Pretty much anything A24 touches is gold in my mind. A Ghost Story, Ex Machina, The Lobster (which drummed up TONS of discussions and full-on scrums in the comment section), The End of the Tour (the fantastic flick about the greatest author to ever live), and Locke, just to name only a few. So yeah, I was going to watch this film regardless. But then the reviews came in, and Tony Collette was being heralded as a genius in this film, so I had had had to check it out. Oh, and then there was this crazy trailer:
High Level Hereditary Movie Overview
First, I have to say, that this movie is so filled with well-cooked grenades (you know, a grenade that has had its pin pulled and counted down… a cooked grenade is one that is about to go off at any second) that I stopped counting them. Headless birds, telephone poles, dolls, drawings, they are everywhere.
The movie launches off into the deep end with the death of Annie Graham’s mother, Ellen. Annie (Collette), an eerie miniature creator, her husband, Steve (maybe the only sane one in the bunch, played by Gabriel Byrne), her teenage son Peter (Alex Wolff), and her 13 year old daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) are all impacted by the death. As the movie opens with a double-meaning-laden eulogy, we begin to understand that Annie didn’t have the greatest of relationships with her mother. Heck, Steve, and Peter show a visible sign of relief that the woman was gone. Charlie was the only one to really miss her grandmother out of the bunch. And yet, the taxing signs of her mothers death very quickly begin to show in Annie’s life, in spite of her grief support group and loud testaments to the fact that she wasn’t impacted by her death. It is actually at the support group that Annie reveals that her entire family was stricken with various and sundry mental illnesses.
Soon after the funeral, their mother tells Peter that if he wants to go his school party, he’ll be taking Charlie along. Well, while smoking weed with a girl that Peter is interested in, Charlie eats a piece of chocolate cake that was cut with a knife that had been cutting nuts. And blam, the movie starts its rapid downward descent, and we are what, 20 minutes in? Anaphylactic shock sets in, and Peter rushes to drive Charlie home. Only glitch? Charlie sticks her head out the window to try and get some much needed air. Simultaneously, an animal is in the road, and Peter swerves… and voila, Peter is now in possession of one sister, sans her head. Oh, this? This is only the appetizer course to this 7 course meal. Buckle up.
The Hereditary Downward Spiral Begins
One of my favorite moments of the film was after Peter managed to detach his sister’s head from her shoulders… he doesn’t look backwards. He doesn’t let go of the steering wheel. He doesn’t move. Peter knows for a fact what he’s done. And then he just drives away. I think there was some reality to that reaction. When something so horribly bad, something THIS horrifyingly terrible happens, I’m sure the mind just goes into lock down mode.
Well, this kicks off another round of familiar grief at this point. Annie completely and totally loses it. (Oscar nomination for Tony Collette anyone? Because, yeah, she nailed this scene, writhing on the floor, screaming bloody murder. So amazing.) And obviously Peter’s mother and Peter are not on the greatest of terms as a result. Heck, Peter is seeing Charlie here and there throughout the house after the funeral. But we only realize the depths of the insanity happening in Annie’s head after another trip to the grief support group. Annie goes with Joan (Ann Dowd) to her apartment, and reveals that once, she woke after sleepwalking with Charlie, Peter and herself, all doused in paint thinner. She only awoke to the sound of the match striking in her hands. (Come on… that is the definition of great writing. Was she in fact sleep walking? What is Joan supposed to do with this? Is it because she’s possessed? Is it because she was depressive and it was an intentional act to take her own life? Just so good.)
But the story gets a hit of Nitrous Oxide when Joan teaches Annie how she can reach out to her dead daughter and across the divide via a séance. Which Annie convinces Steve, and Peter to join in against their better judgment. And sure enough, when they reach out to Charlie, she moves the glass as requested, but when a glass cabinet shatters, and Annie seems to be possessed by Charlie, Peter starts screaming like a little girl to make it all stop. And I don’t blame him. Because, I was screaming on the inside the exact same thing. Please! MAKE IT STOP! hahahah. When her husband hits her in the face with a glass of water, she responds with, “What? What just happened?!?” hahaha. Oh nothing. Nothing at all.
Once More Into The Breach Dear Friends
Afterwards, Annie starts to realize that Charlie might not be the friendly spirit that she thought it might be. And so she throws Charlie’s sketchbook into the fire, only for her arm to catch fire. Trying to find answers, she heads back to Joan’s… but she is AWOL. Eventually Annie sees that Joan and Ellen were friends before she passed away. She also reads a section where her mother had highlighted a section discussing a demon named Paimon. Paimon who was a ruler of hell that apparently wanted to inhabit the bodies of vulnerable males.
Oh, did I forget to mention? That at the beginning of the film, a call came from the cemetery that Annie’s mother’s grave had been desecrated? Yeah, well, they did. And now? Annie seems to find her mother’s body there in among her things. Well, because, it the real world, if you happen to find your mother’s corpse in your attic, you ask your husband to rebury it in the backyard. And rightfully, Steve tells her to sod off, in not so many words. Because duh, his wife has brought her mother’s body to their house from the cemetery and she is completely and totally losing it.
Elsewhere in the wonderful world of Hereditary, Peter begins hallucinating and hammers his face into his desk resulting in a broken nose and a host of completely mindblown classmates.
Well, Annie decides to burn Charlie’s sketchpad herself, only resulting in her husband alighting and dying as a result. (Did I mention this thing was going to spiral completely and totally out of control. Right, I did. Eventually, Peter turns back up only to find his father dead. And voila, he’s chased to the attic by his mother. While there, Ellen’s followers… yes, all those random encounters with random people throughout the movie, confront Peter. And then, possibly one of the most shocking scenes in the movie, Peter’s mother, Annie, appears floating up at the ceiling, where she begins beheading herself with a knife. Doing the only sane thing as a result, Peter dives out of the window and knocks himself out.
The Ending of the Movie Hereditary Explained
Alright… so, the ending of the movie begins, with Peter waking, only to see that the light in the treehouse is glowing. And a throbbing and convulsing light seems to flash into Peter. Probably the indication that he has been possessed by some other spirit. Paimon, if the movie is to be trusted. And as he begins heading towards the treehouse he sees his mother’s headless corpse flying up and into the treehouse. When he gets into the treehouse, we are greeted with Charlie’s head resting on a form that is supposed to be a representation of Paimon. Her head is crowned. And as he enters, the members of the coven bow towards him. He is then crowned by Joan and welcomed as the new embodiment of Paimon.
But What Does Hereditary Mean Man!??
I’ve noticed that in several different interviews, that Ari Aster tells many people that he doesn’t consider the movie a horror film. Rather, he sees it as a “tragedy that curdles into a nightmare.” Well, I will be honest and say, Mr. Aster, you could have fooled me. Because this was one of the scariest things imaginable. The realistic story, the horrible accident, and the downward devolution only seems to be only a groove or two off on the great LP of reality. To help setup this realistic, but off kilter movie, Aster built the Graham family house from scratch on a sound stage. This allowed Ari the ability to swivel each room and shoot the scenes at a much further remove than would normally allow. And it was this aesthetic that more accurately likened the film to that of a miniature dollhouse view than anything else.
Think back to the first time that Peter is in class. His classmates are discussing which book? Sophocles’ “Women of Trachis”. And if you’ve read here much at all, then you know already, that any time a book, a play, or work of art is mentioned, it’s mentioned for a very very specific reason. In this case, Ari Aster has stated that he actually based the screenplay loosely on this Sophoclean play. Ok, that’s all well and good but I didn’t read that particular play in AP Lit. No worries, I got you covered.
Sophocles’ play kicks off with a woman named Deianeira, who is the wife of Heracles (or Hercules if you prefer) and is having a terrible time adjusting to married life. Hercules is always off Deianeira complains, laying siege to this and destroying that. Well, jump forward a bit, and a group of slaves that have been conquered by Heracles arrive at the house. She learns that Heracles may have lay siege to this kingdom only because he wanted to take the conquered King’s daughter as a concubine. Determined not to lose the love of her husband to a concubine, Deianeira creates a love charm on a robe suffused with the blood of the centaur Nessus. But, Nessus has tricked her, the “love potion” actually is a boiling acid when in the sun. And it mortally wounds Heracles.
When Deianeira finds out from her returning son that her “love potion” has horribly injured her husband, and her son’s words abuse her terribly, she decides to commit suicide. And as Heracles lays dying, he learns that his wife wasn’t intending to kill him, but rather capture his heart. And it is then that he remembers that the prophecy that he would be killed by the dead. Which, was in reference actually to the centaur Nessus that had vowed revenge on the Heracles.
There isn’t a ton of direct correlation between the play and the movie. And yet, it is on the level of tragedy that this movie is on… a tragedy that curdles into a nightmare.
My Personal Thoughts on the Movie
I am a Christian. I am outspoken here on this blog about my belief in our God and Father that have saved us from our own sin and despair. And so my thoughts on this movie can only come from this lens.
So with that I say, I really enjoyed the tragic aspects of this movie. The slow devolution into entropy. The accident that takes his sister’s head off? Intense. And the whirlwind of chaos that envelopes the Graham family? Loved it. But when the movie heads into the treehouse at the final few scenes of the film? I’m out. Done. Too much. Because I believe that the spiritual war for our souls is real. I believe that there is an enemy that would kill, ravage, and destroy you if you’d let him. And this struggle for your heart is the antithesis of the love that the Father has for you. So, to end with the movie here? Is way too real for me.
But otherwise, I adored the transformation of Annie from on the edge mother, to certifiable head case, to complete and total evil incarnate was amazing. Watching Collette act was a joy. And it sort of reminded me of another movie I recently reviewed entitled Incendies. The horrible tragedy, the rapid whirlwind of despair, the tragedy laid upon tragedies? Fantastic in every way. Right up until the very end that is.
What were your thoughts on the film? I even did a deep dive into Paimon and his powers. Paimon and his status among the evil minions, princes and kings of Hell… but that was just a bridge too far for me to write about here. Just too much… thank you very much. What were your thoughts about the film and its tentacles into your brain?
Edited by, CY