I settled into my seat to watch Hereditary for the second time. Because, trust me on this, it deserves a second viewing.
The first time I saw it, on its opening weekend, it was in one of the larger rooms. This time, it was in a 30-seat capacity maximum closet. But don’t take this as an omen of a shitty movie. Jurassic “The Franchise That Won’t Die” World had just come out and was playing on, I think, a dozen of the other screens. The theater was packed with kids and families all ready to consume their daily requirement of dinosaurs and Chris Pratt.
So, I was settling in and watching people trek in, two by two. I like to get to theaters early to people watch and get a feel of who I’m going to be spending the next two hours of my life with. I’m weird that way.
On my right was a couple in their late twenties. He had a long beard and wore a Walking Dead t-shirt. She was in black. Lots of silver on her fingers and around her neck. Both vibrated excitement.
“Is this your first time?” I asked.
“Yes!” she said.
“Then that means it must be good if you want to see it again.”
“Actually, I’m here to rewatch it for a review.” I showed her my notebook.
“Oh. So, is it any good? Cuz we’ve heard nothing but great things.”
Just then two new people joined the party. Two elderly women. They crossed in front of me and sat beside me. One of them was very frail. She had that weird plucked bird look some old women get. The second one, who looked for all the world like Jason Voorhee’s mom, unfolded a blanket, laid it over her companion and tucked her in as if for a nap. She then opened a basket and pulled out sandwiches, pulled one apart and fed it to her friend. That done, she unfolded another blanket and cocooned herself and ate the other half.
They were having a goddamn picnic.
Are they in the right theater?
I leaned towards my new friends and whispered, “I wonder if they know what they are in for?”
“I wondered the exact same thing!”
Because, damn, people. Just…damn.
Okay, now here’s where I must warn you: There Will Be Spoilers.
This is a movie that, frankly, can’t be discussed without spoilers.
Because, damn. Just. Damn.
Where to start?
The plot is simple. Grandma is the Queen of a cult that is devoted to bringing King Paimon, a Lord of Hell, into the world via a mortal vessel of her bloodline. Hence, the title. Her first attempt is via her son but that was foiled when he committed suicide at 16. His suicide letter laying the blame on his mother for “putting people inside me” so he’s written off as mentally ill. So, it falls to her estranged daughter, Annie, to produce the vessel albeit unknowingly. Paimon prefers a male body so her firstborn son is perfect and Grandma is overjoyed BUT Annie cockblocks Grandma by keeping her fuck away from Peter. Time marches on and Annie gets pregnant again, so Grandma works on getting back into her daughter’s good graces only for a granddaughter to be born. Shit. Still, a vessel is a vessel and Grandma gets to work on pushing out Charlie’s soul to implant Paimon inside the kid.
But they don’t merge because he's blocked by her...vagina? Obviously, misogyny is big in Hell.
But there is still Peter. He’s looking like pretty good real estate.
Yeah, let’s just say, creepy as fuck little girl, Charlie, has to go.
So, an anaphylactic seizure and a telephone pole to the head later, Paimon is free to move into Peter but, ugh. Rituals. SO many rituals.
Who makes up these rules?
Annie, now grief stricken from the death of her daughter, needs to perform it to open the doorway but how to get her to open the door without spilling all the beans?
Nice people. DON'T TRUST THEM.
Enter Joanie. A nice lady she meets at a grief counseling meeting. She offers her a cup of coffee and a friendly shoulder to cry on. Joanie tells her that she lost her son and grandson. She knows the pain Annie is in and she is the comrade that she needs.
And here is where the movie gets all shades of fucked up.
Joanie runs into Annie and tells her that she met a medium who taught her how to contact her dead loved one.
She takes her to her apartment to prove to her that it’s real and….wow. Freakiest séance ever.
Joanie gives Annie a candle, a ritual and instructions on how to open the door.
Y’all seeing any red flags yet?
It is here that I begin to realize that everyone is on it. EVERY ONE. Everyone at the funeral. Everyone at the grief counseling group. Hell, a couple of the teachers at the school!
They are all cultists. And they are there to open the door, so Peter can host Paimon.
Shit. You can’t trust anybody can you?
But, our hero, Annie doesn’t haven’t the kind of Cultist Radar I do (all those years of playing Call of Cthulhu are finally paying off) lights the candle and reads the super freaky words out loud.
Ugh. Seriously? What did we learn here, kiddos? That’s right. Never read eldritch words scratched out on a parchment. Just. Don’t.
But, she does and things go bad. Really bad. Like some crazy cultist trying to expel Peter from his body while he’s at school, finding a decapitated, decomposing corpse in your attic, Dad getting roasted, Mom hanging in the corner of your room like a spider and flabby naked people showing up in your living room kind of bad.
And then it gets worse.
Attempting to escape his now-demon possessed mother, in horror movie fashion, he runs UP into the attic where he finds candles, so many freaking candles, a photograph of himself with his eyes torn out and, oh yeah, Mom floating up near the ceiling, staring down at him as she slowly, but ever so deliberately, sawing off her head with a piano wire.
Yeah. That’s fucked up.
And then more naked, pudgy, middle aged cultists coming at you.
Peter does what I think all of us would.
He jumps out the window.
Because, fuck that shit.
And then Paimon, in the form of weird light, goes into his (dead?) body and, that’s it.
Nobody saves Peter. The family is utterly destroyed.
There is no Deus Ex Machina that swoops in from the wings and saves anyone.
King Paimon wins. The Prince of Hell is embraced by the cult that has conjured him and it ends with them praising his name.
Anybody else see four dudes in a sleigh? Just me? Carry on.
Yeah. You don’t leave this movie feeling good.
There are lots of people far more versed in the cinematic world than I who are saying that this movie is a metaphor for dysfunctional families and mental illness.
And, hey, I adore metaphors. I’m a writer; it is the clay I use to get my hands dirty.
But, sweeties, this movie doesn’t need any philosophical legitimizing.
It’s a horror story. Horror is Drama escalated to 15. The stakes are Life and Death. Sometimes with a supernatural element, true, but this genre, despite its low brow reputation, doesn’t need academic polishing.
Horror is horror and that is enough.
And, as a horror story, Hereditary wins on all levels. The story sticks with you. Because it is done in such a realistic style, you leave with the uneasiness that this happened in YOUR world. It is brilliantly crafted, directed with the precision of a surgeon. For days, you’ll be thinking about it. How everything, EVERYTHING hangs on everything else, is carefully balanced to work. Everything in this movie is there for a reason. Every word said, every glance, prop, ALL OF IT is part of the heinous plot to bring King Paimon into the world.
And the acting is superb. The otherworldly performance by Milly Shapiro as Charlie is mesmerizing. The seesaw mania and despair of Toni Collette is balanced by Gabriel Byrne’s stoic father figure. And Alex Wolff plays Peter as vulnerable and real, just an average kid who is tragically pulled down the drain cursed by his own bloodline.
So, would I recommend this movie? If you like jump scares galore, a movie where a boatload of horny teenagers are killed in sundry ways with a big old side of torture porn, this is not the movie for you. But, if you like your horror on a slow boil, a deep, burrowing parasite that digs under your skin and stays with you even after you step out of the dark theater into the afternoon sun, this movie is for you.
Oh, and speaking of the theater. My companions? The younger couple that was so excited about seeing it bolted as soon as the last scene ended. Did they like it? From their exclamations, “Fuck! Oh, shit! Goddamn! FUCK ME!” I figured they did. I never got a chance to talk to them again.
And the sweet old ladies?
They never made a sound. Not a squeak.
As I was leaving, I took a quick glance over at them. They were contently watching the end credits scrolling up the screen, popping lemon drops.
They scared the shit out of me.