Hereditary (2018)
June 8, 2018 11:31 AM - Subscribe

When the matriarch of the Graham family passes away, her daughter's family begins to unravel cryptic and increasingly terrifying secrets about their ancestry. (IMDB)
posted by Countess Elena (69 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I really, really wanted to love this movie. I'm a huge Ann Dowd fan and I've always liked Toni Collette. The music and cinematography were fantastic and there were a few genuinely horrifying moments, but Checkhov left unused guns everywhere. What was the narrative point of the miniatures? Why did the opening shot indicate that we were entering a fictional reality when we were not? Why was there little to no follow-through on the exposition delivered in the support group? Why didn't the dad only ever seem to display disdain, even after the death of his only daughter? What was the import of the mom's sleepwalking, beyond general creepiness and an excuse for her children to distrust her? And it didn't need the ending monologue laying out explicitly what was going on - that felt anticlimactic.

All in all it was an artfully shot pastiche of Rosemary's Baby and Paranormal Activity 3. I can see why people are freaking out about it - there isn't much else out there - but I don't think it will hold up over time.
posted by grumpybear69 at 11:43 AM on June 8, 2018 [14 favorites]

I was able to see an early screening of this movie last week, and I wasn't sure how much I was supposed to discuss it online afterwards. I had been just biding my time to get a chance to share my impression of this movie, which was AAAAAAAA. AAAAAAAAAAAAA.

Personally, I have not been so shaken up by a horror movie since I was young enough to think that Ghoulies might actually come out of the toilet. I started crying early on; later, after a bathroom break, I sat on a bench and seriously thought for several minutes about not going back in. But at that point, it was almost over, and I had to see how it would end. This movie is not what I would call fun, but it is, I think, a masterpiece.

[spoiler time]

But there are no horror movies without gaping plot issues, particularly: WHERE WERE THE GOD DAMN POLICE. I know it’s a tradition in this genre for the police to be either incompetent or absent, but generally the audience gets to see an explanation for this. Here, the police don’t even figure in a story that would have to involve them. After Peter gets Charlie killed — which was when I cried — the police should have been on it like, well, like ants. It is certainly possible that everything would go smoothly in clearing a young white boy from a rich family in a small town, but even so it would take considerable investigation, a horror that would take on a life of its own. (He failed to report an accident, for one thing; good Christ, did he ever.) And how was he back in school right away? I know attendance policies can be tough, but I should think you get a few days off for accidentally beheading your sister, or at least a sympathy card that everybody signed. And how did nobody else — if not law enforcement, then at least the local paper — come to talk to Annie about how someone stole her entire mom?

I can't believe I'm thinking of watching it again to try to understand better. I was truly impressed with the art direction, especially the tomes of demonic knowledge, which were deliciously boring. They really looked like abandoned weeder volumes from a university library. I appreciated that. I also appreciated the genuine sigil of Paimon hiding in plain sight in the first few scenes.
posted by Countess Elena at 11:48 AM on June 8, 2018 [12 favorites]

but Checkhov left unused guns everywhere.

The original cut was apparently three hours long, which may have something to do with this.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 2:11 PM on June 8, 2018 [10 favorites]

I caved several days ago and read a very detailed spoiler online, including imagery. I regretted it at first, wishing I could've gone in blind and been as gobsmacked and mildly traumatized as some viewers apparently are, and as I rather think I'd have been. Now, though, I actually don't think I want to see this in a theater. I'm still eager to see it, but will wait till I can watch it at home. (I don't watch many horror movies, though I did see The Killing of a Sacred Deer -- on a laptop, mind -- and thought it was okay to good.)
posted by FrauMaschine at 3:09 PM on June 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

I tried to watch this last night, but there was something wrong with the print the theater received, and the film cut out right. After. Peter. Drives. Back. To the house.

We ended up watching Peter accidentally kill his sister three times. The movie got back to the house three times, and each time the screen then faded to blue and showed the "this film is rated R" card. After three tries, the theater management and the five or so other filmgoers (including myself) agreed it wasn't happening, and we left with refunds and passes to see the film again later, and no resolution. What the fuck could possibly happen next?!

I just left the (entire) film, and I admit to being a little bit disappointed. The shoutouts to old school horror classics like The Changeling, The Sentinel, and (clearly) Rosemary's Baby (plus a dash of The VVitch) put me in mind of Get Out, another recent horror that showed the influences of the late '60s/early '70s style -- and how that film actually meant something. Hereditary is at times incredibly terrifying (I think it's more emotionally grueling than anything else), but I'm fucked if I can see anything like a point to it. I don't need a movie to have a moral, but this just seemed like a massive amount of talent poured into a movie that isn't really about anything. I enjoyed it, I'd like to see it again, but it left me a little deflated.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:44 PM on June 8, 2018 [12 favorites]

I think there’s a lot of depth there, especially in Toni Collette’s performance. To me it’s about emotional abuse, mental illness and inter generational trauma.
Some of the most horrifying scenes were just talking, like the scene where Annie is telling Joan about the sleep-walking incident, and how the feelings she’s expressing towards her son are resentment and irritation and denial, as if he’s wronged her by still seeming to be affected by it.
Or when he wakes up screaming to find her in his room, and says he thought she was trying to pull his head off, and she’s all like “I wasn’t! I would never! Don’t tell your father, he’d be mad.”
Or the dinner table scene! I was nearly in tears.

Even on a non-allegorical level, the family has been manipulated for years by their psycho matriarch and her creepy coven. Annie is both a victim of that abuse and abuses her own children, in a way she seems to regret, or deny, but can’t control.
posted by misfish at 8:11 PM on June 8, 2018 [14 favorites]

I think what I'm feeling is that the movie is less than the sum of its parts. The first third is just a tour de force; Charlie's death is one of the most shocking things I've seen in any movie, and the entire sequence of events that follows is wrenching, heartbreaking, and yet very compelling, because we have to know what's next, ghoulish as that is. Culminating on that endless shot of Charlie's severed head, swarming with ants, is so brutal, so ugly, and an open challenge to the viewer who thought maybe this would be the kind of neat boutique horror movie that played coy and coquettish with gore. This isn't going to be a nice movie, or one that's very much fun. And while it's a clever and occasionally inventive movie, it really isn't that much fun. I think without the genre elements it might be unwatchable, some melodramatic misery porn that's too outlandish to be believed. But the grief and anguish is so palpable you do believe it. It's a very powerful exploration of those emotions.

It's also an atmospheric horror film, and there's no question it casts a spell. But the genre elements come to take over the film in the last act, and I feel like the emotional connection we had to the story is lost. Annie climbing on the ceiling is frankly just cheesy, the kind of corny '00s horror schlock that belongs in a much dumber movie. When there was some ambiguity about what was insanity and what was the supernatural, I felt like the plight of all involved was more relatable. Annie's final confrontation with her husband reminded me so much, frankly, of a few heated conversations with an ex who was bipolar that I was experiencing anxiety that was only a little related to what I saw on the screen. But that kind of thing is buried under a mountain of genre tropes and violence so over the top you can't take it seriously; at first it's horrifying that Annie is bashing her head against the trapdoor because it's Annie, this character we've become close to, but by the time she's floating and sawing her own head off it's just kind of ridiculous and nothing that has anything to do with anything in real life. I think the last act wants to up the ante, but it just ends up undermining the rest of the movie to me.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:59 PM on June 8, 2018 [22 favorites]

When there was some ambiguity about what was insanity and what was the supernatural, I felt like the plight of all involved was more relatable.

I was really hoping for a movie where we could never tell what was psychosis and what was demonic, but it turned out to be demons all the way down. I’m another person who was hoping for something more affecting—clearly, this movie is working for a lot of people—but it just kind of fell apart for me. I really liked it right up until Charlie’s death, but when Peter just drove home and never said anything, that took me out of the movie.

One thing I didn’t catch—what’s with the nonsense words on the walls? Who is doing that? Are those supposed to be part of the invocation to summon Paimon? Even if so, I don’t get why they are on walls.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:25 AM on June 9, 2018 [10 favorites]

The words on the wall are apparently to conjure demons. (Here is an example.) As for who is doing it, I would say one of the cult members (the same ones who presumably placed the headless mother in the attic) are a likely choice. So yes, this is part of the whole conjuring Paimon process. If I recall correctly, the words appear on the walls of those being targeted (basically every member of the family EXCEPT the father) in order to influence their behavior and finally get Paimon an acceptable body.

I found this link useful as it contains information about Paimon, who, in addition, to granting wealth also is associated with the truth (explaining Anne's outbursts) and art (both Charlie and Anne express themselves artistically).
posted by miss-lapin at 1:26 PM on June 9, 2018 [3 favorites]

One thing I didn’t quite realize but that is kind of obvious in retrospect, is that Ellen had gone through a ritual to become Paimon’s bride, thus the picture of her in a wedding dress, showered in coins, and the “Queen Ellen” label on her photograph at the end. The cult is so invested in her descendants because they are literally watching their royal family. Presumably, after that wedding ritual there isn’t another way for Paimon to come into the world—the choice has been made. Since Ellen couldn’t successfully conjure Paimon within her son, she had to try with her grandkids.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 3:06 AM on June 10, 2018 [12 favorites]

To me I think the biggest failure of this film is the absence of epipens. The daughter is highly allergic to nuts, but they often are without one. At the funeral, they comment they don't have one. And again the son doesn't have one when he goes to the party. This makes zero sense to me. since they have money, I would think they would stash one in the dashboard of each car plus ensure a family member always has one during outings.

Like I get it's key to the death of Charlie, but this seems like a really big failure in terms of good writing.
posted by miss-lapin at 1:32 PM on June 10, 2018 [10 favorites]

If we’re poking holes in the plot, the biggest one for me was the complete nonexistence of police in this universe. If you accidentally decapitate your sister while driving after a few bong hits, you don’t get to just move on to the funeral.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 3:29 PM on June 10, 2018 [5 favorites]

I could accept that they just never tested Peter for drugs (he's a rich white kid) and believed it was an accident. Even not reporting Charlie's death tracks with Peter being in shock, which he obviously was. What I didn't believe was Steven taking Peter right home after the school incident. Splinting his nose would hardly seem to solve the larger problem, which may have been demonic possession, sure, but in real life would probably look like either a seizure or a psychotic episode -- the kind of thing that leads to at least a brief stay in a hospital for observation, typically.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:42 PM on June 10, 2018 [8 favorites]

Kittens for breakfast-I totally agree. Actually I think it doesn't track in two ways. The first is what you pointed out. BUT ALSO Steven said taking care of Peter was his main priority. After the seizure, why take him back home to Anne? Why not take him to a hotel or his other grandparents or really ANYWHERE ELSE?
posted by miss-lapin at 4:43 PM on June 10, 2018 [4 favorites]

I loved this movie, and think that the reality of the cult is intentionally ambiguous. There are a few things that the movie does to cast doubt into the last act:

In the support group Annie describes a family history of mental illness, hence the title. She paints her mother as unstable, but is clearly in denial about her own mental health. The last act splits perspective between Peter and Annie, and Peter sees things that would support the reality of the cult, however...

The movie fucks with perspective before that. In the scene where Annie is strangling Peter in bed (itself a dream), we see a way that her mind makes up a 'nice' story that absolves her of responsibility. It's Peter strangling himself through the influence of Charlie's spirit. This scene calls into question everything on screen. We see this later when Steve is burned alive - there's a quick cut from Annie sobbing to grinning maniacally, giving us another possible instance where a break has happened between reality and Annie's mind. It also fits with previous family history - Annie nearly burning the children alive. This calls into question another mystical element of the book acting as a sympathetic magical totem. Peter reacting to the cultist could be real, or it could be a look inside of Annie's mind, justifying her hatred towards him.

Indeed, we get more and more cult elements as Annie dives into her mother's possessions - on the one hand this makes sense from a narrative perspective, but on the other Annie is feeding and supporting her delusions.

Similarly, as the movie progresses, the language of the film gets more and more detached. The sun flicks off and on without even a fade, as if a switch has been turned. The final scene of the movie even resembles one of Annie's dioramas (and in fact I think that the movie gets more 'stagey' as it goes on). The diorama is Annie's symbol, and she uses them to give the audience a hint into her mind - for example Peter's head cut off, or her mother standing menacingly in the doorway.

The Cult's cosmology mirror's Annie's own complicated feelings towards her children, both loving them and investing huge importance in them, and semi-resenting them. It maps pretty well to wanting to force Peter out of his body and turn him into a symbolic vessel.

I think that despite schizophrenia (a realistic explanation) being a supported reading, the cult actually existing (a supernatural explanation) is equally supported, and both are meant to exist side by side. The pain of mental illness is the primary theme of the movie, and the language of the movie mirrors this. The fantasy of the cult fits alongside the painful reality of a woman harming her family because of her illness. Seeing visions, not knowing what's real, feeling lost in an increasingly complex pat narrative take the viewer into the same headspace as the family who has a hereditary strain of the same problem - perhaps illness, perhaps demonic possession. The meaning is less in deciphering the plot, and more the horrific sensation of being unable to.
posted by codacorolla at 6:50 PM on June 10, 2018 [29 favorites]

Yeah, I think both things are true...kind of. Occam's razor would, in my opinion, be enough to conclude that the cult and Paimon are very real in the film. It's just too much to parse any other reading. My initial feeling was that this ultimately undermined the first two thirds of the movie, but the more I think about it, I'm not so sure. The problem with a supernatural explanation for everything is that it creates an absolution from responsibility for the characters, but I'm not sure that level of demonic intervention is implied. Annie did try to kill her kids in their sleep. Annie did send her antisocial thirteen-year-old daughter to a party that was clearly age inappropriate, and that Annie should have known would be. Peter was driving high as a kite. Is Paimon to blame for all of this, really? The spell that Charlie apparently was casting before her death implies that maybe Paimon was using supernatural means to make events conspire to kill Charlie, but I don't think Paimon caused those events. I think the family did.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:15 PM on June 10, 2018 [7 favorites]

Annie did send her antisocial thirteen-year-old daughter to a party that was clearly age inappropriate, and that Annie should have known would be.

And she did it to spite him, too, so that he would not be able to have the kind of fun that he went ahead and had anyway. Then, instead of calling an ambulance in an emergency, he chose to drive Charlie so that no cops would come to that house and bust anybody. That was enough horror for a whole movie, right there.

Three hours! Lord! Who could bear it? I’d be interested in seeing a director’s cut some day, but at my home, with my support system.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:24 PM on June 10, 2018 [4 favorites]

Hmm, I suppose it does make sense that the cult stuff is the intended reading of the movie. I'd still say that the language of the film in the final acts is meant to mirror the experience of mental illness - perhaps compounded by the surreal nature of what's actually happening in the plot.

For what it's worth, this did extremely well at the box office, and easily broke even in its first weekend. It's also A24's biggest release ever, and will likely be a success for them over its lifespan. Audiences HATED it, though. It got a D+ Cinemascore, most likely because of misleading trailers that played up the 'creepy kid' angle, which was a side-note to the movie, but hardly the focus.
posted by codacorolla at 11:23 AM on June 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

I thought that the cake might have been dosed with something too.
posted by brujita at 2:21 PM on June 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

Just a word about the trailer. I really loved that the trailers were misleading.One of the things I hate about contemporary horror film trailers is they give everything away. The misleading trailers was one of the reasons why I was so shocked by charlie's death.

Also another side note. As a huge fan of horror, I see a lot of decapitated heads. They are almost always obviously fake I gotta say the head in this one was one of the best I've ever seen so kudos to the fx department for that.
posted by miss-lapin at 2:30 PM on June 11, 2018 [10 favorites]

I thought that the cake might have been dosed with something too.

It was full of all of those walnuts the one partygoer was enthusiastically chopping up when they first got there.
posted by grumpybear69 at 3:02 PM on June 11, 2018 [12 favorites]

Bahahahahaa, it is me: "The film is a nightmarish buffet of intrafamilial terror, demonic possession, immolation, and decapitation widely regarded as one of the most sadistically horrifying movies in years. I can tell you this because I have read the Wikipedia plot summary for Hereditary multiple times, which is the only way I will ever personally experience any of that terror and decapitation, because no way am I actually watching that shit." -- Rob Harvilla, The Ringer
posted by FrauMaschine at 4:25 PM on June 11, 2018 [15 favorites]

The thing that I keep coming back to is this: who really is Paimon, in the end, and who was Paimon before the movie? Was Queen Leigh possessed by Paimon herself? And what does possession mean, exactly, in this story?

It seems likely that Paimon was already possessing Charlie at the time of her death. At times like Charlie's walk in the woods (and possibly while Charlie was decapitating the dead bird, making the Blair Witch-esque fetish, etc), Paimon was probably in total control of her. But it also seems likely that Charlie continued to live as an independent entity -- maybe Paimon could have been in total control when Charlie was confessing her fears to Annie, for instance, playacting at being a child, but to what purpose? And certainly Charlie's social awkwardness seemed very real, and I don't think she set out to poison herself, either. Yet Paimon must have wanted Charlie to die...her body, at least. It would be simple enough to conclude that Paimon just leapt from Charlie to Peter (once Annie died and freed up the bloodline), but Joan specifically refers to Paimon/Peter as Charlie. I don't think it's that Paimon was pretending to be Charlie; the moment of terror and incomprehension when Charlie briefly possessed Annie seemed quite genuine. I think that, just as Jesus was simultaneously God and man, Charlie is the ghost of a human child and a demon at the same time.

I also feel like it's remotely possible that there is no Paimon after all -- that the psychic malevolence passed down along the bloodline is some power or mutation or something that's really just a metaphor for genetically inherited mental illness -- but I don't think the text really supports that. Yes, Virginia, there is a King Paimon.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:51 PM on June 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

It was full of all of those walnuts the one partygoer was enthusiastically chopping up when they first got there.

I got that, but given the kind of party it was I thought Peter urged her to eat some because there might have been a hallucinogen in it too.
posted by brujita at 5:42 PM on June 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

Kittens, I came into the movie expecting something along the lines of the _The Strange Case of Charles Dexter Ward_, and when Charlie died that was the first real surprise of the movie for me. I think it was a surprise for Paimon and the cultists too. They've spent years grooming this child to be the new vessel for their demon king, and then at the crucial moment there is a run of extreme bad luck and suddenly their plans are all askew. After that it was all desperate improvisation on their part.

I think when Charlie died she was partially, but not completely, taken over by Paimon. E.g. if she had followed the bird-head ritual through to conclusion and joined up with "Ellen", then the possession might have been complete.

I think the ghosts were the result of the later ritual, e.g. everyone in the house/family got tied in and brought under semi-thralldom once the Mom read the spell over the household.
posted by Balna Watya at 6:27 PM on June 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm not really sure. My take on the bird decapitation is that Paimon/Charlie was performing an act of sympathetic magic that would lead to Charlie's death by decapitation. I don't think Paimon had any intention of sticking around in Charlie's body, but he couldn't leave as long as Charlie was a living part of the bloodline. So I think that effectively Charlie cast a spell that led to her own death, but did so under the total control of Paimon. It's possible that the cultists had no idea that was coming, of course.

(But they probably did; as others observed, there is a symbol on the lamp post that killed Charlie, presumably placed there by the cultists. They may have put the dead deer in the car's path, too, but I feel like that's at a point where like...if they knew that much of what was coming, if they knew Paimon wanted out of that body that bad, why not just have someone, like, shoot her? That seems a lot simpler.)
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:27 PM on June 11, 2018 [10 favorites]

Oh wow, I completely missed the lamp post sigil. Now I don't know what to think.

And for the second point, hah, I gradually had the same thought a few hours after seeing the movie. Like, surely there's a simpler way to go about getting your new host than this multi-day terror-thon round-about? There were so many things that could have gone wrong with their plan at so many points.
posted by Balna Watya at 7:57 PM on June 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Reading all of this commentary is making me think differently, too, but I also went from, "Oh my god, what a tragic, relatable, human story" to "oh man, demons and devil worship? welp, whaddayagonnado," and it kind of provided a "fear orgasm" release towards the end of the movie, for me.
posted by knownassociate at 8:58 AM on June 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

If I may spoil a movie from 2005, Alexandre Aja's High Tension? It totally falls apart at the end, when we discover that the heroine (who's been defending her best friend from a serial killer) is in fact the killer herself, and most of the film has been a delusion from her point of view. This is a problem for two reasons: one, it's stupid, and two, if that much of the film we just saw is unreliable, how are we supposed to take any of the film seriously at all?

I think Hereditary has a similar problem once we start thinking about how much of it could be subjective delusion. Were Charlie, Annie and Peter all crazy in the same very specific way, with the flashing lights and the yen for decapitation and the shadowed figures in the darkness? Was some of what we saw real but supernatural, and some of it apparently supernatural but actually hallucinatory? Are we prepared to say that we believe in seances that work but that demon possession is too much? You know, and like that...I mean, maybe Charlie wasn't in an accident at all, maybe Peter killed her and then lied to himself about how it happened? All kinds of things could have happened. But it seems like a literal interpretation requires the fewest inventions on the part of the viewer.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:12 PM on June 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

Todd VanDerWerff wrote an excellent piece on the supernatural reading of the film, and the influence of the satanic panic of the 80s and 90s on the ending.
posted by misfish at 4:57 AM on June 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

The floating on the ceiling does feel like it's been done too much, but IMO it's worth it for that horrible, horrible 'i'll cut my head off frantically with a wire' and hear that sound speeding up and then there's a horrible pause and that thump

It's just so fucking batshit it sets up the next scene with the anointing of the devil or WTF that whole satanic end scene was

also I think outside of movies that are actively inflicting cruelty upon the watcher that I'd not recommend for anyone (Funny Games and Henry: A Portrait of a Serial Killer) that was the most fucked up, harrowing depiction of a mother discovering her child has died. Jesus Fucking Christ.
posted by angrycat at 11:57 AM on June 17, 2018 [8 favorites]

I went to see this last night - when I saw the trailer, I was so stoked about it, and the early hype was heartening.

I was just destroyed by it. There were at least 3 separate points in the final third where I nearly left because I was finding it so harrowing to watch, but didn't because I didn't want to feel I'd missed something. While I was walking home, I think I sort of felt that was the wrong decision - there were a bunch of images I wish I'd never seen, and my nerves were shredded. The self-decapitation scene in particular wouldn't stop leaping into my brain.

After some sleep and reflection, I've mostly made a 180 on the whole thing. I thought Toni Collette was mind blowing, the house itself felt like its own malevolent entity (how the filmmakers managed to make it feel so claustrophobic despite building the set to enable such long/wide shots was something else), and even though the final act felt like too much on a lot of levels, I didn't feel it was out of left field or anything.

Some questions I had: was there some significance that I missed to Charlie always eating chocolate? Or was that purely as a way to set up the chocolate cake incident? I've read a couple interviews now where Milly Shapiro and Ari Asher have said that Charlie is basically supposed to just be Paimon, like from birth, but I couldn't see if there was any connection there or not.

Also, the night before the party, when we see Peter smoking in his room, the final image as he's blowing smoke out his window shows somebody outside watching him; I guess when I initially saw it, I assumed Charlie, but on further reflection, she seemed so disconnected from everyone else in her family, that hardly seems like something she'd care about, so maybe one of the cult members?
posted by catch as catch can at 12:54 PM on June 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

I was completely on board with this movie until the very end. The smiling naked cultists and the kind of goofy-looking gold statue of Paimon were just too silly.
posted by Mavri at 3:45 PM on June 17, 2018 [4 favorites]

My SO thought that it was funny for a little while to make a klock noise randomly after seeing this movie. I was like no. NO. NO I'M SERIOUS I WILL MOVE OUT OF THIS APARTMENT IF YOU DO THAT AGAIN.
posted by angrycat at 5:17 AM on June 18, 2018 [10 favorites]

Having now read a bunch of takes on this and not seen it mentioned by anyone else - I feel like part of why I continued to be terrified until the credits rolled was that I thought the entire "Queen Leigh"-exhumed-body thing was going to culminate in Peter having some sort of wedding ceremony/necro sex with his headless grandma's corpse. Am I just crazy?
posted by catch as catch can at 6:28 AM on June 20, 2018 [4 favorites]

posted by phunniemee at 7:57 AM on June 20, 2018 [9 favorites]

Finally caught up with it... there's some stories that some people think it was overhyped and there's been an audience backlash. I though it was pretty solid, may be 3 to 3 and a half stars but not the savior of modern horror or some-such (it's no VVitch). It had kind of an interesting approach but in the end it was a bit too derivative of other films - there was coverage on a radio program I heard that also also had a story on the anniversary of Rosemary's Baby and yeah. Also some of the pacing and story telling was a bit on the klunky side... I particularly liked Grandma's Boxes of Backstory.

There's a lot you are supposed to piece together and infer - show don't tell, great! - eg one thing I don't thinks been mentioned before that Annie says she was a tomboy like Charlie - was she a proto host?

But I totally didn't get that Charlie is lit supposed to be Paimon, not just possessed but the actual Paimon, but is a bit confused and none powerful coz P can only properly operate in a male body. I mean the clues are there - like did she kill the bird with mind powers? But I only got that after reading an interview with the director.

And a final whinge about the trailer... did you really have to put in one of the most striking shots in the film - the man on fire - in the trailer as I spent most of the movie waiting for that shoe to drop.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 1:30 PM on June 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

one thing I don't thinks been mentioned before that Annie says she was a tomboy like Charlie - was she a proto host?

From the story Annie tells at the support group, it sounds like maybe her brother might have been the prospective host, which fills in a plausible reason (escape) for why he killed himself. Maybe Annie was meant to be the backup, prior to her estrangement from their mother.
posted by Strange Interlude at 5:47 AM on June 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

I had assumed that the brother's possession went wrong somehow and didn't take properly and that's why he killed himself but yeah I think that he could have also just realised what was going on and killed himself because of it/escape.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 5:58 AM on June 21, 2018 [4 favorites]

That would track with what seemed to happen when Joan attempted to cast Peter out of his own body. Presuming that Paimon wasn't just making Peter smash his head into his desk just to be an asshole, it seems plausible that Peter was rejecting Paimon.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 12:20 PM on June 21, 2018 [7 favorites]

So many amazing set pieces in the film (Charlie's death, the family séance, Peter in the classroom) but that final sequence after the burning of the dad, when the camera cuts to an exterior shot of the house and you can just barely make out that there are a dozen naked people standing all around the house—and then we cut to an extended shot of Peter slooowly waking up in his darkened room and once your eyes adjust you start to discern the faint outline of a figure sprawled out on the wall near the ceiling behind the bed... oh my god, all of that was executed to perfection!
posted by Atom Eyes at 10:17 AM on June 22, 2018 [5 favorites]

And then downstairs, the weirdly grinning naked man in the doorway. Jesus, I need to see this movie again.
posted by Atom Eyes at 10:18 AM on June 22, 2018

Hahaha, angrycat, my husband did more or less the same thing to me, and got the same reaction from me (except I threatened to kick him out instead of move out myself).
posted by holborne at 10:09 PM on June 22, 2018 [3 favorites]

In response to some of grumpybear69's questions:
What was the narrative point of the miniatures?
Per the writer/director: The models serve as something of a metaphor for the family’s situation. They ultimately have no agency and they’re revealed to be like dolls in a dollhouse, being manipulated by outside forces.
Why did the opening shot indicate that we were entering a fictional reality when we were not?
I read that shot (retrospectively) as establishing Annie's viewpoint as the lens the viewer is looking through (even though she's not present for all the scenes) since she's the artist behind the miniatures. Also, Paimon is associated with art, so this serves to draw the viewer into the world of his manipulations.
Why was there little to no follow-through on the exposition delivered in the support group?
I'm not sure which parts you're referring to, but the things that stood out most to me were the fact that Annie's brother (as a male, a potential vessel for Paimon) killed himself and accused his mother (Ellen) of trying to put people inside him. I felt like that established Ellen's failure to summon Paimon with her own children, leading to the plot with the grandchildren.

Annie's feeling of being at fault, but not sure for what exactly, I read as a failure to keep her children safe from their grandmother.
What was the import of the mom's sleepwalking, beyond general creepiness and an excuse for her children to distrust her?
I saw it as a subconscious desire to free her children from a fate worse than death inspired by her brother's similar escape. It also foreshadows the greater role that fire would have later in the story.
And it didn't need the ending monologue laying out explicitly what was going on - that felt anticlimactic.
I kind of agree with you there, but in the same interview as above the director makes explicit that this is really the coven doing this and it's not being orchestrated (or hallucinated) by Annie. I normally like stories that have ambiguous resolution, but in this case it sort of worked for me as a release of tension without which the ending might have felt too abrupt.
posted by Cogito at 10:12 PM on June 22, 2018 [5 favorites]

Wow. That movie sure stressed me the fuck out.

It’s very good, but fuck.
posted by Artw at 10:20 PM on June 22, 2018 [6 favorites]

To me I think the biggest failure of this film is the absence of epipens.

Parenting a kid that needs an epicenter is a constant panic of realizing you haven’t brought the thing to some place that has food, I thought that checkovs gun was handled very well.
posted by Artw at 10:32 PM on June 22, 2018 [3 favorites]

From the Vox article misfish linked above:
This is, of course, how horror often works — in a feedback loop with reality. Our real-life horrors (in this case, a millennia-old belief in a dark being constantly trying to turn humanity against its better natures) get translated into horror tales, which get translated into real-life scares, which later become other horror tales.
It seems that one of the most salient horrors of the director's generation is that the world they're inheriting has been corrupted (climate change, rising mental illness and suicide rates, income inequality, etc.) by their forebears' metaphorically selling their souls for wealth and power. This is depicted both literally (Ellen being showered in gold in the pictures of her wedding to Paimon) and symbolically (various characters losing their heads) and the effect is appropriately chilling.
posted by Cogito at 10:36 PM on June 22, 2018 [11 favorites]

I enjoyed it and I'm not even a horror movie fan. I thought the first half was a fantastic portrait of a family in crisis.

My wife has been told to knock it off with the {klock} or else.

Found out today that Rosemary's Baby is titled La Semilla del Diablo here in Spain, talk about telegraphing the ending!
posted by arcticseal at 12:40 PM on June 25, 2018 [3 favorites]

I wanted to like this much more than I did. I'm actually a bit angry at it to be honest. While I absolutely admired the camerawork, acting, and music throughout, I thought the brutality of the Charlie decapitation scene and the family's consequent descent into detachment and madness was completely undercut by the Conjuring-esque hijinks of the final sequence, which struck me so schlocky as to read as comedy (especially the floating-on-the-ceiling thing). Charlie's death -- and specifically the trauma of witnessing it as an audience member -- deserved a much more solemn, sober, and serious third act. The final revelation was a wonderful twist but, again, it read to me as (very) darkly comic. I actually burst out laughing as the credits rolled (which I'm sure made me the most hated person in the theater at that point -- sorry fellow theater-goers!). That said, I thought the final shot of Peter's face as it transforms from traumatized to coldly regal and triumphant was absolutely beautiful and haunting.
posted by treepour at 11:34 AM on June 29, 2018 [6 favorites]

I liked the weird as hell end but yeah, feels like they could have maintained tone better. That said I’m not sure I could deal with the last have of the movie being as tense as the first.
posted by Artw at 1:15 PM on June 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

I liked this movie but I did not find it particularly scary. It had me guessing at the plot angles throughout and I enjoy that sort of thing, but it just didn't really create much dread in me.

Event Horizon was way worse, without being much gorier, for instance. And with a similar descent into schlocky over-explanation in the wrap-up.
posted by snuffleupagus at 4:31 PM on June 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

That said I’m not sure I could deal with the last have of the movie being as tense as the first.

That's what made the movie for me, the build up of tension was so much better than the second half. I have been thinking about it since I saw it, it's a film that stays with you.
posted by arcticseal at 11:25 PM on June 29, 2018

Well, we bought another backup epipen, so that bit stuck.
posted by Artw at 7:24 AM on June 30, 2018 [9 favorites]

The dinner table scene absolutely wrecked me. Amazing acting: scenery-chewing Annie and quiet, nonverbal Peter realizing just how much his own mother resents him. That scene was really devastating and was so much more than I'd expected. The way we could see the characters' feelings unfold throughout is just incredible.

The first 3/4 was some of the best horror I've seen, creeping dread with almost no relief. And the only "relief" is the outright, shocking, violence of Charlie's death. It was really, really uncompromising in the first two acts, and I really respected that.

Annie telling Peter that she never wanted to be his mother...oof. And then being horrified that she actually said it.

I found the ending a relief, in a way, because at least I finally knew what I was supposed to be afraid of. But it really was over the top, verging on ridiculous, with the floating and the head bashing and the auto-decapitation.

It wasn't the scariest thing I've ever seen, but I really do support this kind of horror movie, that cares about horror as its own art form, that cares about set design and cinematography and acting. So sure, it could have been better, but it was a hell of an effort.
posted by biscotti at 9:42 PM on July 6, 2018 [13 favorites]

I feel bad for the poor gallery owners. Now they'll never get to do their opening.
posted by subocoyne at 3:18 PM on July 23, 2018 [10 favorites]

Heh. The stressy deadline stuff is actually another good level of tension raising.
posted by Artw at 3:28 PM on July 23, 2018

Trans Horror Stories and Society's Fear of the Transmasculine Body - "What the film Hereditary reveals about society’s moral panic surrounding transmasculine people."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:57 AM on August 22, 2018 [6 favorites]

Just saw this. I thought it was all right, but the cult stuff in the last bit really dragged it down for me. I thought the first half was a lot better, and the really harrowing part for me--the part that is still sticking with me--was right after Charlie's death, when Peter is just sitting there in the car, not looking in the back seat. It's this one perfect little horror moment of knowing the terrible thing is just behind you and not wanting to turn around, and it goes on and on and on. Shudder.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 6:21 AM on August 25, 2018 [7 favorites]

Just saw this again, and wanted to chime in on how much I *loved* this film from a number of perspectives. Toni Collette's performance is a masterpiece, and the ratcheting tension throughout the film was delicious. Also, on the esoteric side, they got so many details *just* right - seeing the invocations on the walls and then Charlie's drawing of a bird with a crown, and I knew where things were going right away.. one of the scenes I loved was when Joan was performing her seance, the 'manifestations' of her grandson were absolute pitch-perfect representations of classic Spiritualist parlor tricks.. and then Anne reproduces them on her own, indicating that the old rites and legends are (in this framework) completely true.

Also, the unspoken tie-in of Anne's miniature work is 'As Above, So Below' - a demonstration of how the micro and macro approaches to the world are deeply tied together, which we see most obviously in the pull-through shot of the diorama in the opening, but then as Anne keeps working/obsessing/destroying her 'world' through those ritualistic recreations.

Also, I can't see how people view Anne's support group breakdown as 'unresolved' - it seemed really clear that the legacy of mental disturbance in her family is directly tied to how Leigh had been attempting these summonings for some time, with severely deleterious effects on everyone around her. Anne herself feels perpetually 'blamed' from all sides because of the pressure put on her - blame from her mother for the estrangement and denying her access to Peter to fulfill the sanctification of Paimon's host, blame from Peter about the simmering resentment going on due to never wanting to have him in the first place but capitulating to Leigh's pressure, blame she places on herself due to the subconscious awareness that Charlie's developmental oddities have something to do with letting Leigh work/dote on her in infancy... no matter what she did with her entire family life, something was working against her to lay guilt and resistance on.
posted by FatherDagon at 7:23 AM on August 30, 2018 [4 favorites]

It seems that one of the most salient horrors of the director's generation is that the world they're inheriting has been corrupted (climate change, rising mental illness and suicide rates, income inequality, etc.) by their forebears' metaphorically selling their souls for wealth and power. This is depicted both literally (Ellen being showered in gold in the pictures of her wedding to Paimon) and symbolically (various characters losing their heads) and the effect is appropriately chilling.
posted by Cogito at 10:36 PM on June 22 [7 favorites −] Favorite added! [!]

Thanks for your answers to the original questions, i was thinking very much along those lines. This movie seemed to me all about the demons of wealth as well as about gaslighting. i loved the way it unfolded very neatly in three parts.

The emotional stuntedness of the family is so suffocating; it did remind me of my rich relatives and rich friends. and the film pulls you into that very well in the first act. Why doesn't anyone have to work? How and why do they have this giant, creepy as fuck house in the woods with the Baba Yaga playhouse? Who have they hurt to be able to gain enough money to remove themselves from society like that? The way the art gallery dances around Annie--she's rich. There are so many ghosts haunting the initial setting alone.

So, to me, the absence of cops was a natural part of the setting-- they are rich. cops serve rich people, they don't dig into them. The unsettling setting reminded me of Get Out in that way, or poltergeist, you know, America's wealth is built on genocide, the bodies are all under the fancy house kinda shit. ooh, and the fancy car, the car as plot device...gotta think about that.

The setting playing so much of a role to the plot, reminded me of the VVitch movie--there it was extremist/ fundamentalist/ patriarchal/ separatist christianity represented in a setting, here it was extreme wealth. in both movies, it seems like the movie is using the supernatural to dramatize the sociological. the supernatural elements represent social constructs. as they are created by humans, the demons have human traits, but they are far bigger than any one person's ability to perceive or control, they are maintained by secret societies, a la Yale University, or as dramatized in Rosemary's Baby, or as explained by Adam Smith's philosophy about businessmen meeting to fix prices.

And then the demon/ social conditions get to the business of gaslighting Annie the whole movie, her whole life. She was born into wealth, she's never had to cope with anything real, just her surreal family who are beyond the concerns of most humans. the husband has the same rich persons' disease. He has human concerns, but no ability to act, he refuses to connect with her over the grave robbery, he just judges Annie and drinks, and assumes everything will be ok if he muddles through in silence. it's ok, he has money.

Peter is also obviously the inept, numb, rich kid. his jackass friends relate to him through weed, the girl he tries to connect to through his affluent fog, openly exploits him for weed-- when she obviously also needs a real friend at the party. it's the meet cute-IN HELL. and with trauma, he just retreats.

Oh, I think i cried out "no!" at the grieving scene, and the dinner table scene is oscar-worthy. these are moments of release after a whole movie of baggage. #ToniCollettebestactress

Annie attempts to be human at the support group, and is intercepted by Joanie, who is your one hope for a normal human relationship in the middle of the torment of the second act, as the camera pulls the viewer into distrusting our own eyes. You really want to hope that the doormat means nothing, and Joanie acts like it is nothing. ugh.

the hallucinations/manipulations begin to manifest themselves in camera, and the nightmares (very well) foreshadowed as family stories of mental illness begin to appear on screen, and you now feel them. and then the seance, and joanie's bullshit, which could almost be just crazy joanie, and it's not, and you feel like you want to run away from what the cinema is telling you, just like Annie does in the scene. Her one friend is the one who is going to damn her. poor Annie, poor us.

So, for me, the gut-drop, killer scene was the pull back to Joanie's altar, with the symbols and the wicker figures, and Peter in the triangle. It's god-view, third person. it's probably one of the more elegantly, pleasantly lit scenes as well, the doorway into the third part.

a bunch of things are happening at once. why are they rich? (baba yaga's coven/cult) will Annie be human? (no / it doesn't fucking matter/ she never had a chance/ why even care about Annie, you fool) is this a hallucination? (no/ that also doesn't matter). Everyone you've cared about until now is fucked, you can no longer try to explain it away, and now you just get to watch it all, viewer, congratulations.

That scene is the movie paying off the opening with "these characters are the dolls in the demon's dollhouse, remember?". it was the zoom-out to diorama, vs the opening zoom in to diorama. it was telling us that Annie looking for answers in psychology, in control of her small spaces, is totally wrong, she needs to look outward, sociologically, to see where she can escape to her humanity. Her one shot at joining a human circle is torpedoed by the gaslighting mom figure of Joanie. #annedowdbestsupportingactress

The movie also shows you that there was no way that that scene could have been annie's hallucination, because annie still thought joanie was her friend, and no way it was peter's mind.

also, the gut drop of inescapably confirming Joanie to be a villain, were you suspected so in the parking lot scene, and the doormat but couldn't confirm it, the movie always letting you a way out until now, was well done. There was a lot of plot explained without dialogue, just with pure cinema, pure camerawork and mise-en-scene, which also then sets up the ending shots.

From there, it's all just dominos, but you just feel release, I think i just let go after the husband catches on fire, and Annie just disappears into the Demon self. That face drop is nuts, but also so sweet, the tension is gone, it's all kinetic from there, rolling downhill.

And then Peter being crowned is just pure queasiness. there's something there about the nightmare of white, rich, male privilege, but it it's a sideline, like the movie hinting, oh yeah, there was a gender thing all along. Annie is nothing, Peter is nothing, but also everything. Peter is now a "real man" in our fucked up coming of age story.

So Brava, movie. Brava, all, for making a movie that is stealth political advocacy for an inheirited wealth tax / re-establishing the estate tax.
posted by eustatic at 10:27 AM on September 3, 2018 [13 favorites]

Toni Collette holy moly. And the music is so amazing.

In the beginning, at the funeral, when they show the portrait of the grandmother -- it looked off, like it wasn't the camera pointed at a picture, but pointed at a real life little diorama scene with the actress holding still.. If that's what they did it was a nice briefly unsettling touch.

At worst this film felt a little Shyamalan, not in terms of twists, but in terms of a kind of feeling of narrative laziness or lurching-ness. Like when the mom goes to her "friend's" place and we don't see inside but there's a summoning tableau that we the viewers get to see, or how when she opens the box of the grandma's stuff the doormats are there as if to say, "See, viewer? I made got on that [pointless detail]." Sometimes the narrative feels an inch deep, the seance gimmicks felt silly, there was too much talking at the end..

Ultimately these things kept me from thinking the movie was fantastic, and I didn't really feel like enough ground was laid for me to believe a coded interpretation. I like some parts of Nyx Fears' review but I don't really believe it reads that well as presenting Annie's mentally deranged story about Charlie being a trans guy -- though I admit her spinning the room diorama to face the camera and how her magnifying eyepiece suggests a camera are pretty evocative.

Paimon's utter passivity is interesting. He doesn't really seem to do anything scary. He seems like a doofus, the idiot king surrounded by controlling, over-invested self-harming and harmful women; he's the very special boy, a wooden toy king, completely empty unearned status. He's not a scary voice or a scary face. I'm not even sure he's the shimmering ripple of light, which hangs out around Charlie, so it's not Charlie, but then it goes into Pete and turns him into Charlie, or something. The real husband and the real son, meanwhile, are garbage to be burned.
posted by fleacircus at 1:58 PM on September 24, 2018 [3 favorites]

I saw this last night. It was dark even by horror movie standards. Horror movies very rarely involve the death of a child, that death was especially horrific, and I can't think of another one in which the protaganist family is totally destroyed. But I do think this movie could have used some work. The complete absence of the police, as noted by another poster upthread, bothered me a lot. There was too much about this family that didn't make any sesne. This movie just didn't feel like it was ready for release.

And it occurred to me at the end that Peter's new favourite poem is going to be Rudyard Kiping's "If". ("If you can keep your head when all about you, Are losing theirs and blaming it on you.... you’ll be a Man, my son!")
posted by orange swan at 4:44 PM on September 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

Amazing analysis, eustatic!
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:54 AM on September 25, 2018

Finally saw this. The conceit that Charlie could possibly have been Paimon for her entire life doesn't make a lot of sense. How is it possible Annie wasn't completely creeped out by Charlie when Charlie was an unhappy demon King? Did toddler Paimon set any children on fire? Was Paimon confused and/or powerless by being trapped in a female body? If not, why wait so long to perform the ritual and get decapitated? If so, why didn't the cult just kill Charlie earlier? I might have missed some hint that Peter had to be of a certain age before Paimon possessed him though.

It makes a lot more sense if Charlie is a normal mortal kid with a demonic hitchhiker.
posted by benzenedream at 7:15 PM on January 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

I finally saw this last night. Alone. With headphones. It immediately found a place in my five favorite horror movies, with an actual ranking pending. Holy moley.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 8:10 AM on March 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

I agree with all the suggestions that this film is best read as an allegory about society’s moral panic about the transmasculine body.

The best evidence I saw of this reading was when Annie is searching through the old box and pulls out the baby blanket the grandmother made and it says in BIG letters "Charles" — I was already feeling the transgender thematic elements, but that to me seems a purposeful nod of intention on the director’s part.

I've heard a lot of people describe the finale as a disappointing or even unintentionally comedic ending, but I just felt transfixed by the eerie haunting beauty of the dream-like ritual and psycho-supernatural elements and more importantly a weird sense of elation that I didn't understand at first. It was really the comforting, soothing words of the Joan affirming the young man in his new form that just sealed things in a nice warm envelope for me. A happy ending.

Within a thematic trans narrative, Joan is the liberal family friend validating and reaffirming an empowering identity for Peter. When Peter "was" Charlie, he was a very lonely isolated awkward child. It is his mother who never lets him forget that past, her forcing him to take Charlie with him to the party could be representative of her criticizing or outright invalidating his gender expression. "I can see that thing you wear to bind your chest, don't you think you should change into a thicker shirt?" Something nasty like that just puts his headspace back into that unaccepted weirdo kid he felt like.

Peter just wants a normal life as a teenage boy, he wants to get close to a girl and experience that part of his sexual awakening, but while at that party he has those insecure thoughts. He starts to feel anxious as if people see right through him, right to that little "girl" he feels hopelessly chained to, dragging "her" behind him.

Through the events of the film, were see the progression of Peter's identity and development of his psyche. Charlie is his Id, through “her" constant chocolate eating and disregard for socializing, motivated only by a deep and mysterious inner feeling. Peter is his own Ego and core, perhaps not perfect but to call him selfish would be unfair, especially when contrasted with his mother who has to have everything on her terms only. Seeing Peter as Ego helps explain his horrific/traumatized failure to tell anyone about the accident, leaving his mother (or father or a third party who happened upon the car in the driveway) to find Charlie in the worst possible way.

Thus Paimon could be seen as the Superego, the higher self that Peter is on the path to becoming. Paimon is a beloved and adored demon god, he may not be accepted by wider society, but to the witches he is a supernatural wonder and source of joy and even prosperity and wealth. Paimon may have once had the face of a maiden, but he is now in his proper bodily form that accords with his true nature.

With the beheadings of his maternal grandmother, mother, and female child form, the matrilineal branch of his heritage is disconnected from his identity. He transcends the expectation of playing a role as a supporting female witch in a crone-mother-daughter goddess triad. He is a singular deity, a god and a devil and a prince, all at once.
posted by edithkeeler at 5:35 PM on December 31, 2019 [2 favorites]

It is an interesting thought experiment, though, to think how this story would have been covered by local/national news. I mean, where to even begin in a headline??

I just watched this movie, and I'm returning to this thread a year later to say that if only the car was a convertible, the headline would obviously be:

"Headless body in topless car"

Thank you.
posted by schoolgirl report at 5:51 PM on January 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

I joined the All Access A24 Club and they let me pick from a selection of their merch for a free bday gift today. I ordered the Charlie's Head puzzle.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:32 AM on July 6, 2022

Dear god, that's horrifying (happy horrifying birthday)! And thanks, I didn't know about the A24 store and am now enjoying free Crafts By Charlie desktop wallpaper.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 1:16 PM on July 6, 2022 [1 favorite]

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