This article explains the events of Hereditary, the horror movie directed by Ari Aster, revealing crucial elements of the plot and the meanings behind them. We recommend you to read it only after watching the movie, and not before, in order to preserve the pleasure of the first vision.
As you may have noticed watching it in the theatres, Ari Aster’s Hereditary doesn’t reveal its heart that easily: the story starts as a representation of a family in trouble and slowly escalates into a spiritualism tale, but nothing happens explicitly. Even the way it scares the spectator follows the same pattern: no explosions, sudden surprises or demonic faces coming up from darkness. The movie just wants you to feel safe and go deep inside the movie characters. A deception that the movie plays on you, as well as some of the movie characters play on the protagonists.
The original screenplay of the movie was 3-hours long, cut afterwards by the director in the current two hours, and you may think that that’s the reason why many things in the movie are not said. But the director strongly refuses this theory, explaining that, yes, he wanted to disseminate enough hints in the movies so that people get what happened, but his intention was to not give away anything easily. That’s why there was no use of classic demonic symbols like pentagrams or upside-down crosses. After watching it, many people may ask themselves what really happened in Hereditary, and that’s exactly what the director wanted.
What happened, basically, is the successful invocation of Paimon (a real demon taken from the 17th century spell book Lesser Key Of Solomon) by grandma Ellen, her friend Joan and a set of other followers who continued her actions after her death. As explained in the movie ending, the final goal of all this was to offer a strong, male host body to the demon, and that hasn’t been possible so far: the grandma tried since the very beginning to use Peter’s body, but his mother Annie never allowed her grandma to get close to her firstborn (that’s explained by Annie in the support group). Grandma Ellen had the only possibility to use Charlie, the little daughter, and that’s what she did: Charlie and Ellen were very close since the beginning (Ellen even breastfeeded Charlie when she was little) and Ellen pushed Paimon into Charlie already years before the story we watch. That’s why all that people smile at Charlie during Ellen’s funeral: they were the ones helping Ellen to invite Paimon into Charlie.
Charlie, as we see her in the movie, was then already possessed by Paimon. That’s again an interesting fact of the movie: Charlie acts just like a weird kid, a social outcast, but she doesn’t appear to us as evil. She is scared, she needs protection. She was born like that, and she doesn’t really know what’s happening to her. That’s part of the way the director deceits us. Of course, that also means that the accident where she dies is not really an accident: you may have noticed the mark of Paimon on the telegraph poll, that means that Paimon adorators cursed those events, in order to prepare the way to the son Peter for him.
Why then all the family had to die, and where was the demon after Charlie’s death (and before the ending)? As Annie reads in Ellen’s spiritualism books, the host must be exhausted and distressed in order to allow the possession. That’s why all those things happen around Peter: the mother is actually not evil, and she was possessed only in the last couple of scenes. The demon leads the events around Peter to weaken him, and the misterious moving light that we often see can be interpreted as the way Paimon guides the characters to act like he wishes. In this way, we have the same point of view of the family and we are tricked exactly like them: that’s why things don’t appear clear to us. Why didn’t they use the father’s body as Paimon host? That could be because he’s not part of grandma’s bloodline (all the characters that were, got finally possessed).
Final curiosity about this movie: many spectators went a bit further in the theory and supposed that the moving lights are reflections of the lens used by Annie while creating her miniatures, and everything we watched was actually happening in a micro-world created by a evil miniaturist. That’s however denied by the director: “The ending is literal,” Ari Aster said, “nobody likes the ‘It was all a dream’ thing.” But he succeeded to trick the spectator about what happened, making him think that there could be something we didn’t get. Because, again, we are the deceived ones.