Back in June, we watched Hereditary in theaters, not knowing much about the plot; the trailer was incredibly creepy and there was a lot of hype so I was very hopeful. I know many movies who get a lot of good buzz before or shortly after they come out face some backlash and Hereditary was no different. There’s a lot of my own friends and family that didn’t care for the movie, esspecially the ending (which I found to be profoundly disturbing) and that’s okay, because movies are subjective. I happened to love this movie and I’ll tell you why!
No matter where you stand on the issue of whether or not Hereditary is a good movie, I don’t think there’s any denying the acting in this film is absolutely superb. Of course, Toni Collette’s performance was incredible; her portrayal of an adult who has grown up and continues to live in unadulterated disfunction, who cycles through guilt, relief, fear, frustration, grief, resentment throughout the movie and does so in a way that’s so believable. I love how we see Annie trying to process her feelings, trying to hold her life together (sometimes with literal sticky notes), be a mother (which she’s REALLY bad at) while grappling with not only the death of her loved ones, but being confronted with the knowledge that her mother used Annie and her entire family to summon a demon for personal gain #familyproblems. Toni Collette could have gone way over the top and ruined this role, but she brought Annie to life in such a heartbreakingly relatable way. Although Toni’s acting was the most noteworthy, by no means does that mean the other cast members weren’t bringing their A-game. Every member of the tiny cast all did an incredible job of bringing this tale of extreme family disfunction to life, from the completely useless but well intentioned father Steve to the teenage son Peter, who longs to be independent from his family but regresses in the most heartbreaking way when the trauma starts to hit the fan (I know a lot of people thought Peter’s signature “baby” cry was bad acting, but as a child welfare worker I don’t think I’ve ever seen something more realistic; kids, even older teenagers, become scared 5 year olds when traumatic things happen). I don’t think there was a single bad performance in this film.
Not Just Another Possession Story
The Devil is played out, we al know this as are demons who come to Earth to possess and wreck havoc on society. In Hereditary (as in 2014’s Last Shift) the spirit that is born into Charlie’s body, then possesses Annie before eventually settling for Peter is Paimon a spirit loyal to Lucifer who also happens to know the secrets of the universe and teaches science. TBH, Paimon seems like a pretty chill spirit, and seems almost confused and unsettled to have been summoned by this cult who want to use him to empower themselves. Even though Paimon is a trickster, it’s pretty clear that the antagonists of the film are Ellen (Annie’s mom) and the cult of worshipers, who successfully breakdown every member of Ellen’s family, starting with her husband and children (Annie’s brother, father, and herself) and working their way down to her grandchildren (Peter and Charlie). In many other possession movies, Christianity is always on the side of the protagonists, even if the main protagonists are the people who wield the religion at their evil demons. Not so in this film, where the antidote for Annie’s family to escape this nightmare lies in them being able to function as a healthy, communicative family with strong boundaries (which seemed to have worked for some time as Annie mentions that when she first had Peter she estranged herself from Ellen, who was subsequently not able to summon Paimon to take possession of Peter’s body and had to settle for Charlie’s “female” body when Annie dropped her boundaries later). If Steve had the ability to be a proactive and protective parent, he would have left with Peter after watching Annie scream at him over dinner the first time and the family wouldn’t have ended up dead. If Annie had stayed estranged with Ellen, there would be no way for the cult to summon Paimon in the first place as he can only be summoned into someone in Ellen’s bloodline.
Super Cool Details
Hereditary was a film that was super rich in little hints and details that took a lot of thought. The decapitation of the female victims is a great example; in a shot of Paimon in a book of Ellen’s Annie finds, Paimon is pictured riding an animal with three heads dangling. I read somewhere that heads were Paimon’s preferred currency and it would certainly seem three generations of women paid the price to Paimon for the cult to be endowed with knowledge and power. The decapitation could also refer to Paimon being described as having a “female” head but preferring a male body. This movie is filled with details like this; this blog did a phenomenal job of breaking down the weird and creepy details in the film.
A General Sense of Dread
For me, a big part of why I loved Hereditary is that almost from the first scene we know that nothing good is going to happen in the next 125 minutes. Aside from the obvious bad shit, like death, family breakdown, complex trauma, there always seemed to be a bigger menacing force hanging over the Grahams that gave the day-to-day family disfunction a sinister edge, which we know is Ellen’s cult manipulating the family like the miniature dolls Annie creates. I was so unsettled by the end of the movie that I literally would not let my husband leave my side the entire night, including when I went to the bathroom (true story). I don’t think I had been genuinely scared by a movie since I went to see The Ring Sophomore year of high school (don’t judge).