If you’ve been to see Hereditary, you may well be reading this in a darkened room, shaking and rocking back and forth. But as well as being one of the most truly chilling horror movies of the modern era, it’s also one of the most nuanced, with clues, hidden meanings and Easter Eggs, scattered all across its two-hour plus running time. Here we delve into the things you might have missed, or indeed, things you might have spotted, but didn’t quite understand. No need to thank us.
Oh, and you should really know, SPOILERS follow. Like blood flowing from a severed head…
Is the Demon Real?
Paimon isn’t a creation of director Ari Aster. Whether he’s real or not is still TBD but he is an actual documented demon dating way back, with appearances in the 17th century spell book Lesser Key Of Solomon and the French occultist Collin de Plancy’s 1818 tome Dictionnaire Infernal. Aster says he chose Paimon because “the devil has been done to death” and Paimon was his favourite option that came up during his research prior to making the film.
He’s certainly got some sick powers: making spirits appear, reanimating the dead, holding his breath indefinitely underwater. Sometimes he takes the name of Paimonia, sometimes Paymon, sometimes he isn’t a ‘he’ at all – American occultist Poke Runyon has suggested Paimon is a woman. Most agree that he/she rides a camel. Whatever you want to call the movie’s Big Evil, we can agree that, disturbing as it was, the final scene of the movie was missing something, and what it was missing was a camel.
Where Have I Seen the Treehouse Scene Before?
If you found the last scene in the treehouse familiar, good spot. The director says it’s a homage of sorts to the seminal 1955 Charles Laughton directed movie Night Of The Hunter. Based on the 1953 novel by Davis Grubb, the book, and the subsequent film, are inspired by the crimes of Harry Powers, who murdered two widows and three children, and was hanged at Moundsville State Penitentiary in West Virginia in 1932.
It’s widely viewed as the greatest movie that isn’t Citizen Kane. Legendary French film magazine Cahiers du Cinéma even says as much (but in French obviously). If you’ve never seen it, Night Of The Hunter is a brilliant example of a non-horror film being very good at being horrifying.
Isn’t There a Chilling Hint of What’s To Come Early On?
If you knew what you were looking for, you could have roughly worked out where Hereditary was going within the first ten minutes. That necklace Annie (Toni Collette) is wearing, as she delivers her awkward eulogy at the lectern in the funeral parlour? The one with the same design as the one her mother Ellen is wearing, laying in her coffin? Well, that’s the actual seal of Paimon. Yeah, I know it looks like a gate, but it’s actually a scary demon symbol, okay? The symbol turns up throughout the film, until the moment of the final reveal; the most chilling example being etched onto the side of the telephone pole that will later that evening take Charlie‘s head.
Would Knowing Hebrew Have Helped Me Decipher What Was Going On?
Yes. One of the biggest questions that Hereditary poses is why are Annie and husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) so chill with letting their daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) write on the walls of their house? Again, if you knew what you were looking for, you could have sussed much of what Hereditary was doing right from the off — though knowing Hebrew would have been handy in interpreting what the words mean. Especially since it’s never explained.
‘Satony’ is a word used in the ritual of necromancy. ‘Zazas’ is a word used to summon a demon – it’s actually used in the season six X-Files episode “Terms Of Endearment” (it’s got horror god Bruce Campbell in it!) in a similar context to here.
‘Liftoach’, meanwhile, is Hebrew for ‘open’, and ‘pandemonium’ is the word for Hell’s capital in Paradise Lost, the iconic poem by the 17th century English poet, John Milton. The clues were there all along, Annie!
Did I Notice Some Spooky Echoes?
Here’s some creepy stuff you might have missed. The smiling naked man that Peter (Alex Wolff) sees in the doorway at the back end of the film is the same man who was smiling at Peter at his grandmother’s funeral at the front end of the film.
The chocolate bar that Charlie is eating in the scene where she’s snipping off the dead bird’s head is a Dove chocolate bar.
In the scene where Annie is drinking tea at Joan’s (Ann Dowd) house, and pulls a herb out of her mouth after taking a sip of tea – well, there’s a picture in the photo album of Ellen feeding Charlie with a bottle, and the milk is peppered with the same type of herbs.
Oh, and in the first scene where we see Peter at school, the words ‘Escaping Fate’ are daubed on the blackboard in the classroom. That would be ominous enough, given what is to follow, but it’s also a nod to John Carpenter’s seminal 1978’s slasher Halloween. The concept of fate – and of not being able to escape it — is also discussed in that movie’s classroom scene.
What’s Up with Annie’s Sleepwalking?
Annie spends the whole film trying to protect her children… except when she’s asleep? Could it actually be that she was trying to do the loving thing, protecting her children by doing the unthinkable? Woah, that’s messed up.
Director Ari Aster told Reddit last week, “Annie knows on some buried, suppressed level that her life is not her own, and she is the victim of unthinkable, Machiavellian scheming by her mother, but she lives in a kind of denial. But in her sleep, this part of her is acting out. She tried to set fire to her children [to stop the eventual ritual being able to take place]. She even says, in the dream sequence, “I wasn’t trying to kill you, I was trying to save you.”
There’s More to the Miniature House than Meets the Eye, Right?
You can probably read the significance of the miniature house that kicks off the movie, and is present throughout, as being a plaything – and the family within it – of the demon Paimon. But Aster says that there is significance to the way the model house is laid out. If you look closely, he says, the window to the attic, where Ellen’s decapitated body is found, is boarded up, as is the bedroom of Charlie. Not only that, but the front door is akin to that of a bank safe. No escape <shudder>.
So Just How Many People Were Vessels for Paimon?
It’s pretty clear that Peter wasn’t the first vessel for Paimon. We hear that Ellen “always wanted Charlie to be a boy” (Paimon needing a male body to inhabit) and it’s revealed that Joan — who at the end of the film talks of the treehouse ritual being a second attempt — even made a ‘Welcome’ mat for someone named Charles.
But even before that, we get the impression that there have been other attempts at implanting Paimon into a human body. Annie tells the grief counselling session that her brother killed himself as a result of his schizophrenia, believing that his mother was “trying to put people inside him”. And what of Joan’s dead son and grandson? Were they just a device to win the trust of Annie, or were they the victims of other prior attempts?
Was the Production Haunted?
Here’s a pretty cool story. On set, Alex Wolff told Ari Aster about the age-old superstition that the Shakespeare play Macbeth is cursed. If you’re not aware of said superstition, actors in the play won’t refer to the play by its actual name while in the theatre, using the euphemism ‘The Scottish Play’ instead. Also, rehearsing lines from the Witches’ incantations is a definite no. If any of these rules are transgressed, the curse can be broken by the person to blame leaving the theatre, spinning around three times, spitting, cursing, and then knocking to get back in, all of which sounds extremely silly to us. According to the director though, upon hearing this, he smugly said the word ‘Macbeth’ out loud… and, during the filming of the next scene, one of the lights burst.
Hereditary is out now.