Hereditary Review and Meaning

Updated on September 5, 2019
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This film contains spoilers clearly marked at the end of the review. If you had questions about this film, I have all the answers you need.

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This review and explanation will be full of spoilers.

Not everybody loved this thinking persons horror movie. Some people thought it shouldn't have been classified as horror. There has been a spate of films just like this one in recent years and not everybody likes it. Just because you didn't find it scary doesn't mean it's not horror. Not all people are scared of the same things. I love the genre of horror movies because they encapsulate so many diverse areas. A horror movie by definition is:

A film that seeks to elicit fear. They can be unsettling, frightening or cause dread. They center on the dark side of life and strange and alarming events. Horror movies can make us feel vulnerable, alienated or disgusted. These films feed on our fear of death, loss of identity or most primal natures and fears.

Just because there isn't a bogeyman, monster or jump scare in it doesn't exclude it from the horror genre. It doesn't mean films don't belong in the horror arena just because you didn't get scared. Movies like Hereditary and many others I have mentioned respect horror in ways that other films just don't sometimes.

Just a reminder that there will be spoilers, spoilers, and more spoilers. No paragraph is safe here.

Charlie played by Millie Shapiro
Charlie played by Millie Shapiro | Source

What Did I Think Of Hereditary?

Movies such as Hereditary (2018), It Comes At Night (2017), The Killing Of A Sacred Deer (2017), The Endless (2018) and Get Out (2017) do not rely on ghosts and gore-filled special effects. These films aren't the first movies of this kind; Rosemary's Baby (1968), The Omen (1976) and Jacobs Ladder (1990) are other films that would be leaned on in coming up with the more current trends.

They tap into the irrational unknown scenarios that life brings us. Hereditary is not the greatest film there ever was, but it is unique and layered and brings way more to the table than guessing that Annie (Toni Collette) was a witch during opening scenes.

Some people hated the ending of Hereditary, some hated the odd behavior and some hated the tropes of figures in the background and the use of mediums to contact the dead. Some only saw the supernatural aspect of it and therefore missed the subtext of the actions of the characters. People like what they like and hate what they know they dislike. Me, I am always trying to expand my culinary appetite for anything cinematic and will sometimes watch stuff I usually have a bad time with and find gems I would never have seen otherwise.

I loved this movie for its power to keep me thinking about it long after I watched it. It's easy to view this film from multiple angles and it can be left open to interpretation, no one is really wrong. Films can be watched over and over and this one brings new information to the table each time. Hereditary made me feel the tension and sadness for the family involved when I looked back on it. I'm a sucker for jump scares and was lured into one at the end when Annie loses the plot. The ending was a little worn, but it had enough new shock value added from seeing Annie in mid-air, sawing her own head off to still be impressed with the finale. I loved the idea that a new demon was born and that I could imagine a whole sequel in my own mind.

I give Hereditary 4 floating people didn't ruin it for me out of 5.

Gabriel Burn plays Steve, Toni Collette plays Annie and Millie Shapiro plays Charlie
Gabriel Burn plays Steve, Toni Collette plays Annie and Millie Shapiro plays Charlie | Source

Bits And Pieces, Symbolism and Explanations

The Demon Perspective

Whatever faith you believe in or even if you don't, most people will have heard of or believe in demons. Paimon is the king of a bunch of them. Paimon comes from Arabian mythology and is better known as a djinn (more commonly known as a genie.) There are tonnes of books and writings about him and his history that's all very complicated. In the time of these books, there were 72 spirits that could be called and they all had different jobs. Summoning Paimon will bring riches to those who grant him a male body and an offering needs to be made in return to level the score.

In Hereditary, the cult seen towards the second half worship Paimon and doing so is a family tradition. Annie relates how the Grandmother breastfed Charlie and that an arrangement had been made before she was even born. This is because Paimon needs a body to live in. The cult gains prosperity in allowing the child offering to be its body. What Paimon really wants is a male body though. The whole film centers on the cult awaiting possession of Peter. Annie talks about how her own brother killed himself to avoid his grandmother 'putting people inside him.'

Paimon has many powers but here are his most important ones:

  • ability to cause visions,
  • reveal answers in the present and past,
  • the origin of the wind,
  • protect against enemies,
  • physically stop people who resist,
  • raise the dead,
  • summon spirits,
  • flight,

The Mental Illness Perspective

Just as the theory of demonic possession can be applied to Hereditary, so can mental illness and trauma. Annie speaks about how her father had 'psychotic depression' and her brother was schizophrenic. She also speaks about how her mother has multiple personality disorder. Research into these disorders shows them to be hereditary and passed down the family lineage.

Annie's husband has been on the sidelines throughout it all and justifiably believes that she needs professional help when her behavior becomes manic and obsessive.

Did everything that happened in the film become a part of the hereditary mental illness within the family. Fugue state is a known factor of multiple personality disorders. Many supernatural elements are associated with sleepwalkers. Even the ending can be explained away if mental illness is then applied to Peter's behavior. Prolonged periods of trauma are said to exasperate mental illness and goodness knows Annis life and the lives of her children seem to be plagued by it.

Annie's mental break happens when her husband is killed.

Whichever way you want to look at the film, you've got to admit, it's really clever to be able to fit both ideas.

Alex Wolff plays Pater
Alex Wolff plays Pater | Source

Character Breakdown

The Cult & Joan

Underpinning everything is the cult that worships Paimon. I wonder where it all started and how much of Ellen's family has succumbed to Paimon? Ellen has been trying for a very long time, either in succession with her own son or perhaps prior to that. Ellen wears a necklace with a Paimon symbol on it as does Annie.

Joan was Ellen's best friend as seen in the many photos of them together in the second half of the film.

  • The cult's mission is to find a human child's body to inhabit. Paimon prefers a male body as it makes him stronger. Ellen was able to give them Charlie but wasn't able to get to Peter because Annie kept Peter at arm's length protecting him. While the cult circled around Peter when Ellen died, Joan's sent to preoccupy Annie
  • Momentarily seen on the pole that decapitates Charlie's is the Paimon symbol and her death's indirectly caused by them. The decapitation itself is also symbolic of an offering to the demon.

Ellen (the grandmother)

  • Ellen's the head worshipper of Paimon. She's been preparing to summon Paimon for some time, all systems were greenlit until Charles was not born a boy.
  • Annie was only of interest to her mother when she realized she was having a boy. The stored welcome matt with 'Charles' embroidered on it shows this.
  • Ellens previous attempt at summoning Paimon into her son's body had failed because he killed himself.
  • Ellens death is both a blessing and a curse. The cult uses her as an offering and decapitates her.
  • Charlie's beheading was also the workings of the cult. Seen at the crash site, the cults' symbol is also on the welcome mats and the necklaces.

Charlie:

  • When Charlie was born, Paimon was already in her. Ellen had summoned Paimon knowing that she would be a boy and to then successfully raise a child from birth as a demon. This would be much easier than having Paimon possess someone much older (Ellen's son) which ultimately failed.
  • Charlie was a sacrifice to get closer to Peter who was the end game for the cult and for Paimon. She could even be classified as an offering.
  • Clues to Charlie possession by the demon is that she decapitates the bird, builds symbolic crucifixes and makes a clucking sound. No one ever talks about her becoming this way, she has always been this way.

Peter:

  • After her brothers' death, she kept her own child (Peter) away from her mother. He has memories of his mothers' sleepwalking and the example of her trying to set them all on fire in the middle of the night.
  • His father is his only solace amidst all of the chaos.
  • Throwing himself out of the window knocks him unconscious and it's then Paimon takes over. Poor Peter's lost forever to spend the rest of his body's life with the very people who killed his whole family and Paimon reigns.

Annie:

  • Annie's calm speculative demeanour when talking about her family history suggests she has always been tangled in it.
  • I think she well versed about her hereditary curse and familiar with her mothers' disappointment of her own sex. Had she been a boy, she would be dead or possessed.
  • She talks about not wanting to be Peter's mother. Any mother. Did the cult influence play a part in her getting married and having kids in the first place?
  • Annie tried to abort Peter and when she was unsuccessful, she moved the family away. She knew about the value of the males in the family line so only allowed her mother access to Charlie thinking it was safe.
  • Maybe she told her mother during pregnancy that Charlie was to be a boy. She might have been trying to break the cycle and not know how far her mothers reach was until it was too late. She allowed her mother access to Charlie as a consolation prize.
  • The cult had power over Annie and used her when she slept. Although we don't see much of the cult, it's easy to say they are always there.
  • At the end when Annie cuts her own head off, we can assume this is also the influence of both Paimon and the cult. When Annie discovers the books and welcome mats in the boxes, it's when she realizes that it's already too late.

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Questions & Answers

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