I Finally Watched A24's Horror Hit ‘Hereditary,’ and Oh Dear God, Will I Ever Sleep Again?
Sometimes I do things that are dumb. The dumbest thing I’ve done lately? WILLINGLY CHOOSING TO WATCH HEREDITARY.
Oh, am I six months late to this conversation, since the movie came out in June 2018? Well, la dee da. Yes, I did receive a screener from A24 in November when awards-season voting came around for my critics’ group. Yes, I did leave that screener buried at the bottom of the stack, underneath all the other movies I did watch, because I knew this movie would fuck—me—up. I KNEW. I COULD SENSE IT IN MY BONES. And yet like an idiot on Sunday I was like, “Hey, you know what I should do right now, instead of putting away my laundry or going to the gym or baking cookies or doing literally anything else? I should forget about how the trailer for this movie made me shut my eyes until my partner turned it off and closed out of YouTube! I should watch Hereditary!”
And so, I live-tweeted that shit! That has SPOILERS about Hereditary, as will the rest of this piece!
not quite to "fuck this" levels of sunday grumpiness but yeah OK I'll put on HEREDITARY and see what the hell happens.— Roxana (a hex on all who misspell my name) Hadadi (@roxana_hadadi) January 27, 2019
My partner, blessings be upon him, sat down to watch with me—we do this thing where if I want to watch something scary, and he’s not particularly interested, he’ll still sit on the couch and half pay attention and laugh really outrageously at elements that would normally scare the crap out of me. He doesn’t get scared by horror films, and I absolutely do, and his eye-rolling reactions to things that spook me help keep me grounded.
BUT GUESS WHAT? HEREDITARY IS TOO SCARY FOR THAT. YOU KNOW WHO DIDN’T SLEEP LAST NIGHT AFTER WATCHING HEREDITARY? YOU KNOW WHO KEPT WAKING UP AND THINKING TONI COLLETTE WAS CROUCHED IN A CORNER ABOVE HER BED? ME. ME. ME. ME.
Is this a safe space? Can I get out all my fears with you guys? OK, thank you, please hold my hand while I work through this. Because I am horrified and yet I am transfixed.
• Is it wrong to feel sympathy for Charlie (Milly Shapiro)? It’s not, right? Because even though this kid scares the shit out of me, and I NEVER want to hear another tongue click EVER AGAIN, fundamentally this is a daughter whose mother sacrificed her to her grandmother. Toni Collette’s Annie essentially admits this, both in her art—the miniature where she’s breastfeeding her newborn daughter, and her mother is standing next to the bed, her breast also out, reaching for Charlie—and to her grief support group.
How phenomenally terrible, to essentially get your mother off your back by offering up your daughter. Even putting aside all the demon-worshiping cult shit, that is not great, and it makes me feel profoundly for Charlie as a child who knew she wasn’t wanted.
• But also: Is Charlie possessed by Paimon the entire time? This is what I didn’t understand. Is that why she’s so strange and distant? When she cuts the head off that bird and starts making the figurine with it, it’s very similar to the metal Paimon that the cult makes, with Charlie’s head atop the figure astride the camel. Was she already Paimon at that point, creating what she knew she would become?
• I STILL CANNOT BELIEVE THAT CAR ACCIDENT SCENE. STILL. CANNOT. I almost quit the movie right then, but clearly I hate myself, so I kept going.
• In my thread last night I praised Nat Wolff’s performance, mistakenly thinking that he and Alex Wolff—who is actually the actor in Hereditary—were the same person. I was wrong! They are brothers, and different people! Nat doesn’t have a mole, and Alex does! And oh my god, is Alex Wolff fucking magnetic and tragic in this film, from the mask of pain on his face when he climbs into his bed after the accident to how unbelievably shattered and wounded he looks during his mother’s rage-filled dinner monologue to the little boy he becomes during the séance, collapsing in tears. But his look while sitting in class, when that light flashes, and when he sees his evil reflection in the glass cupboard?
And then his expression as he watches his mother’s headless body levitate into the treehouse, where he then sees his beheaded grandmother’s decaying body and his beheaded mother’s blood-covered body, both kneeling in worship before him? Holy shit. Holy shit. I AM SO AFRAID RIGHT NOW.
• I have nothing to say about Gabriel Byrne aside from thanks for agreeing to be in this movie, buddy! That scene when you burst into flames was not at all what I anticipated, and I screamed!
• Also thanks to Ann Dowd, whose extreme spookiness here made me realize that I am never going to be interested in watching The Handmaid’s Tale, no thank you, never!
• That line Dowd’s character says to Paimon-in-Peter’s body, at the end of the film: “We rejected your first female body.” There’s a whole essay to write about that line and the use and destruction of women’s bodies in Hereditary, right?
• And finally: Toni Collette. Hot goddamn, Toni Collette.
What a soul-shattering performance that will haunt me maybe forever. Because it’s not just the scary stuff, like her possessed body skittering around the walls of her home while she waits for Wolff’s Peter to wake up, or the way she locks eyes with Peter while sawing off her own head with piano wire, but the other stuff, the human stuff, the stuff that made me think about how much sacrifice parenthood is and how very little mothers in particular seem to get in return, and how deeply they can scar their children, utterly beyond repair.
That conversation she has with Peter about taking his little sister to the party—she knows that Peter is dodging her questions about his drinking and drug use, but Charlie makes her uncomfortable, and she just wants a break. That guttural scream when she discovers Charlie’s headless body, and the desperation in her voice when she is trying to convince her husband and son to do the séance, and her panic when she realizes that her mother wasn’t just a hard woman or a cruel woman but a goddamn demon worshipper who was crowned as a queen of Hell and who signed her family up for a lifetime of unfathomable pain. Thanks a lot, Mom! Really cool of you!
I’m not sure I can watch Hereditary again, but I feel like I should, to gain a better understanding of the details I missed. My partner noted that the symbol of Paimon is in pendant form in the necklace Annie and her mother wear, and is also carved into the telephone phone that decapitates Charlie; I’m sure there are other little clues like that. I want to keep an eye out for the wavering light that is Paimon’s spirit, which seems to move freely around Annie’s home and the children’s school. (And which reminded me very much of how the witches transmit their memories to Dakota Johnson’s Susie in last year’s Suspiria remake.)
And ultimately, maybe a rewatch would help me realize why Hereditary scared the ever-living fuck out of me, joining a plethora of other recent films (interestingly, many of them A24) that have nightmared up my life:
It Comes at Night: What comes at night is my nightmares of spooky people with mouths full of black blood hanging out in my apartment!
The Witch: Still not sure what freaked me out more, the insane religious fundamentalism or, you know, Black Phillip.
It: I know some people around here want to have sex with this guy but PASS.
Any human-like entity that does the whole “my limbs go in weird directions and my body moves outside the laws of biology and anatomy”; doesn’t matter what movie it is. Do not bring that shit near me!
So, what’s scared the ever-living crap out of you lately? Was it Hereditary? IT WAS HEREDITARY, WASN’T IT? Excuse me while I run away and hide.
Image sources (in order of posting): Hereditary/YouTube, Hereditary/YouTube, Hereditary/YouTube, Hereditary/YouTube, Hereditary/YouTube
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