Follow TV Tropes


Film / Hereditary

Go To

Charlie Graham: Who's gonna take care of me?
Annie Graham: Um, excuse me? You don't think I'm gonna take care of you?
Charlie Graham: But when you die.

Hereditary is a 2018 horror drama film written and directed by Ari Aster in his feature debut, starring Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Ann Dowd, Milly Shapiro, and Alex Wolff.

When the Graham family's secretive grandmother and matriarch, Ellen Leigh, passes away, the family — miniaturist mother Annie (Collette), father Steve (Byrne), daughter Charlie (Shapiro), and son Peter (Wolff) — begins to unravel cryptic and increasingly terrifying secrets about their ancestry. The more they discover, the more they find themselves trying to outrun the sinister fate they seem to have inherited.

The film has been described by Aster as "a family drama that curdles into a nightmare" — and by "nightmare", we mean it's been hailed as one of the scariest films of the 21st century. What exactly this entails is contained in many major twists and surprises, so if you have any interest in seeing this film and have not yet done so, it is strongly advised that you do not read any further.

Hereditary contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents:
    • Ellen is suggested to have been the manipulative and controlling kind to Annie and her late brother Charles, leaving Annie with mixed feelings about her mother's death.
    • Annie herself lapses into emotional abuse and negligence towards Peter, though she later tries to make up for it.
  • Accidental Murder: Peter speeding with the car, and swerving to avoid a dead deer in the road, leads to Charlie's decapitation.
  • Advertising by Association: The trailer advertises the film as being "From the producer of The VVitch".
  • Affably Evil: The cult members including Joan are very upbeat, if the grinning pictures are any indication.
  • Ambiguous Situation: Is Peter still alive at the end after he throws himself out of the window, or does Paimon just control his dead body? Some of his behaviors at the end indicate part of his personality is still active and Paimon only gained control because Peter was just too broken down to fight him any longer.
  • Animal Motifs: Charlie is heavily associated with birds. Her facial features appear somewhat birdlike, she has a tic where she often clicks her tongue, some of the creepy sculptures she makes have bird parts in them, and she cuts the head off a dying pigeon with scissors. In the finale, there's a bird in a cage hung up in the treehouse next to her severed head on the mannequin.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Peter softly asks Annie one, after she blows up at him.
    Peter: What about you, Mom? [Charlie] didn't want to go to the why was she there?
  • The Bad Guy Wins: The cult successfully transfers Paimon into Peter's body.
  • Big Bad: Nearly every horrific event in the movie is Paimon, the demon god worshipped by the cult in which Ellen and Joan are members.
  • Black Blood: Annie mentions to Joan that when she found Charlie's body, it was covered in tar-like black blood.
  • Black Magic: Essentially the premise of the film—a transference ritual to place a possessing demon lord into a body he prefers.
  • Body Motifs:
    • Weirdly enough, there's a lot of emphasis on decapitation.
    • There is also a lot of camera focus on eyes, and lights reflected in eyes.
  • Book Ends: The movie begins with a shot of the treehouse before zooming out and then in on a miniature model of the Graham household which eventually morphs into the actual house. It ends with the camera zooming out of the treehouse with Paimon being summoned, making the treehouse appear like a miniature model.
  • Break the Cutie: Poor, poor Peter. He goes from your typical moody, awkward teenager, to a guilt-burdened kid who is partly responsible for his little sister's gruesome death and has to drive her headless body home in a shocked daze, to being told by his own mother that she never wanted him and she'd tried to miscarry him (though this part may or may not be just be a dream, it's still horrible to watch play out in the moment), to a sobbing mess of raw fear begging "Mommy" not to hurt him after she loses her mind and becomes possessed, to a mentally broken orphan whose body is assimilated by Paimon. It's incredibly painful to watch.
  • Broken Tears: Peter upon hearing that Annie hadn't wanted him and had tried to miscarry with him in any way that she could, though this luckily turns out to be All Just a Dream. He breaks them out for real when hiding from his possessed mother in the attic after coming across his father's charred corpse.
  • Calling the Young Man Out: Annie takes Peter to task over his role in Charlie's death, and when he fires back with an expletive, she responds with an explosive, bitter diatribe that rakes him over the coals for every single character flaw she feels he possesses (real or perceived).
  • Ceiling Cling:
    • When Peter discovers his father's charred corpse, we see a possessed Annie fixed on the ceiling behind him. Doubly creepy is how Annie instantaneously disappears once he turns around.
    • This happens in a scene prior as well, as Annie can be seen over his right shoulder as he's waking up from bed, clinging to the wall before she releases and goes crawling silently through the air behind him and out of the room.
  • Character Blog: Charlie has an Etsy page for the freaky animal dolls she makes.
  • Chekhov's Armoury: The huge pile of photo albums and books that Annie inherits from Ellen? They fill in the entire plot, especially Joan's secret friendship with Ellen.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The telephone pole that leads to Charlie's demise, marked with the seal of the cult, is focused on when Peter drives out to the party.
  • Color Motif: Several of the characters are seen primarily wearing certain colors (blue and white for Annie, green for Peter, orange for Charlie, and red for Joan).
  • Creative Closing Credits: The film's credits transition between names by having a letter from one drop down into another, thereby "passing it down" in analogous form to the film's themes of passing down traumas.
  • Creator Cameo: Director Ari Aster is the voice calling about Annie's art exhibit.
  • Creepy Doll: As if the regular kind weren't unsettling enough, Charlie has a whole collection of these made out of various odds and ends...oh, and dead animal parts.
  • Creepy Dollhouse: Annie builds miniatures. The main way we learn this is through the opening shot, which depicts the unoccupied dollhouse she's building before zooming in and revealing it to be identical to her son Peter's bedroom.
  • The Dead Guy Did It: The film begins with Annie's mother Ellen having already died and Annie dealing with (or, more to the point, not dealing with) Ellen's death as Annie worries increasingly that Ellen is Back from the Dead. She's not, but she has given her granddaughter Charlie to Paimon, resulting in her getting possessed, and brought to them the cult who eventually orchestrates the deaths of the entire family except Peter and finally his possession.
  • Dead Guy Junior: Charlie is presumably named for her late uncle, Charles. Fitting, since it's implied Ellen had tried to have both possessed by Paimon, making Charlie a Replacement Goldfish for Charles. Maybe Ellen suggested the name. Charlie even mentions that Ellen always wished Charlie was a boy.
  • Death Glare: Annie shoots Peter a brief one after he calls her out on her part in Charlie's death. At the same time, there are clearly a lot more emotions at play than just anger.
  • Decapitation Presentation: The cult collects Charlie's severed head and mounts it on a mannequin, complete with a crown. Also inverted with Ellen and Annie, as their decapitated bodies pose in grotesque prostration to Peter, but their heads are presumably discarded.
  • Demonic Possession: Every member of Annie's family falls victim to this at some point, save Steve. Interestingly, Annie's possession is noticeably different from Charlie's and Peter's. She completely loses her personality, crawls on the walls, levitates, and attacks like a mindless beast without speaking, all before slowly and gruesomely killing herself while levitating. Her headless corpse then floats to the treehouse to witness the coronation of Paimon. Meanwhile, Charlie—implied to have been possessed from infancy by the supposedly wrathful Paimon—had showed no signs of anger or any other emotion, and was not shown or indicated to be violent toward other people. She had simply behaved like a quiet, odd girl with morbid interests who needed help with an psychological issue. Peter is supposed to be possessed by Charlie and Paimon, but he is also seemingly non-malevolent for having a demon king inside him. He shows Charlie's Verbal Tic and quietness, but also seems to still show fear or uncertainty, instead of the wicked Slasher Smile he sees in his reflection.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: When Annie explodes at Peter at the dinner table, she voices her disdain for her hard work in looking after him being met with "that fucking face on your face!" Given how flustered she is, the word repetition is justified, and it's been commonly praised as one of the most authentically-written lines in the film.
  • Destination Defenestration: Peter's last act, following him witnessing both Annie sawing her own head off and several naked cultists in the dark, is to throw himself out of the nearest window. It's unclear if he (as himself) survives the fall.
  • Diabolus ex Machina: At the end, Annie decides to burn Charlie's sketchbook, thinking it will excise her from the house. Based on what happened last time she tried, she is sure she will be incinerated along with it but doesn't care as long as it saves Peter. So, she throws the book into the fireplace...and then Steve is immolated with no explanation as to why, and Annie is possessed by something. It only goes downhill from there.
  • Downer Ending: The Leigh-Graham family is butchered by Paimon, who forces Peter to watch his mother saw her own head off. He desperately tries to escape but is captured by Paimon's worshippers and given up to be possessed.
  • Dramatic Irony: The audience learning more than the characters is used in multiple ways to express horror and evoke extreme discomfort, in both tension and narrative payoff.
    • Partially, it is employed through the characters refusing to communicate with each other on almost anything, leaving the audience with a bigger picture than certain characters have to create a foul mood of emotional stagnation and tension. The most prominent case is a short-lived one — the agonizing moment of the film where the audience waits with a horrified Peter for the rest of his family to discover the aftermath of Charlie's traumatic, abrupt death.
    • It also pays off to splinter the characters mentally. For example, Annie and Steve never communicate about things the audience is privy to (like the grave desecration or Annie's support group and friendship with Joan), and this causes things to build to a fracture point as Annie appears to go insane and Steve learns suspicious things about her activities. The most impactful payoff is with Peter being broken down for Paimon's possession at the end of the film. After waking, Peter has every reason to believe Annie snapped and burned Steve alive with paint thinner and that she is attacking him now, since he doesn't know like the audience does that Paimon burned Steve and possessed Annie. Learning that Annie is possessed while she's killing herself adds new traumas on top of the ones Peter thought he was witnessing and breaks him open completely.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • Annie's brother Charles hanged himself as a teenager, which she believes was due to mental illness.
    • Annie herself is forced to violently cut her own head off while possessed.
    • Peter ultimately jumps out a window in terror to escape the sight of his mother sawing her own head off and the menacing strangers appearing in his house.
  • Drone of Dread: The majority of the film's soundtrack, composed by Colin Stetson.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Subtle, but present. Peter leaving his sister unsupervised so he can smoke weed turns out to have negative consequences spanning the length of the film. However, it all turns out to be orchestrated by the cult anyway.
  • Dying Declaration of Love: Annie gives one to Steve before he is to discard Charlie's sketchbook in a fire, purportedly making Annie burn to death as well.
    "Now, listen to me. Listen to me. Oh! You are the love of my life. I love you, Steve. I love you so, so much. Oh, God, I love you so much. And I love Peter so much..."
  • Dysfunction Junction: The only person in the movie who doesn't have problems is Steve. Annie is a psychological wreck thanks to her mother and tried but failed to miscarry Peter by doing everything she was told not to do when she was pregnant with him; Charlie comes off as distant toward others and has a nasty habit of mutilating animals and keeping their body parts, as well as a deadly nut allergy that partially leads to her death; Peter is an absolute mess after feeling responsible for Charlie's death; and that's not even getting into Ellen, who's revealed to be a cult leader trying to bring a demon king into our world...
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Before she died, Ellen left her daughter a note apologizing to her for what she's arranged to have happen and hoping Annie won't hate her for it, promising that they will be rewarded in the end. However, this is left ambiguous, as it's not clear how genuinely Ellen means this, or in what way for that matter.
  • Evil Matriarch: Ellen was both very controlling and sinister. After Ellen's death, Annie shows her conflicted feelings at a group therapy session on grief, admitting that her mother had had a very hard life, but also showing anger at her for her manipulative ways and lack of remorse.
  • Evil Old Folks: Paimon's worshipers.
  • Familial Body Snatcher: Charlie briefly possesses her mother Annie, and then possesses Peter for an apparently much longer time.
  • Fan Disservice: All of the members of the cult are nude, but given the fact that they're evil and mostly old, it doesn't exactly make for the most pretty sights for the audience.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Quite possibly what happens to Annie and Ellen, and potentially Charlie as well. Their decapitated bodies of the former two prostrate before Paimon and turn around to face him on their own. Even in physical death, their souls are bound to, and servants of, Paimon. Peter is also a more literal version, as he tries to commit suicide, but it doesn't take, and Paimon possesses him.
  • Flat "What": Joan, when Annie wants to stop the seance; it's one of the few moments of levity the movie has before the horror really starts to set in. It's also a subtle indicator that Joan's putting on a show, frustrated that Annie is more afraid than comforted by the idea.
  • Flies Equals Evil: The flies in the attic herald the finding of Ellen's corpse.
  • The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: A24 promoted the film by giving examples of Charlie's creepy little dolls as "gifts" to people who attended screenings...and by giving them as "gifts," we mean leaving them outside people's doorsteps.
  • Gainax Ending: As if there wasn't enough Mind Screw, naked cultists appear out of nowhere, Annie's decapitation turns out to be real, the headless body floats into the tree house which is all set up for a ritual, and Peter becoming possessed by Paimon is sorta played as a triumphant moment.
  • Generational Trauma: Annie’s deceased mother Ellen was emotionally manipulative towards Annie and her brother when she was alive, forcing Annie to have children in hopes of getting a grandson and driving her brother to suicide. This causes Annie to have an estranged relationship with her own children, Peter and Charlie, but especially with Peter, who she feels resentful towards due to not even wanting to have children in the first place. This gets even worse when Charlie is killed in a car accident where Peter was the driver, and Annie later finds out that her mother was part of a demonic cult and planned to sacrifice her entire family to summon their demon lord Paimon.
  • Gender-Restricted Ability: Only a male can successfully be a vessel for the demon king, Paimon. It appears that when he inhabits a female's body, that the female he's inhabiting deteriorates mentally and physically before going full-blown demonic. In a "blink and you'll miss it" moment, Annie reads a passage from a book about Paimon that mentions he becomes "livid and vengeful" when offered a female host and mentions that the most successful incantations of Paimon have been with males. It's possible that the reason for the destruction wrought on the Graham family was due to Paimon's anger of being given Charlie as a host initially.
  • Genre Mashup: Marries domestic family melodrama and horror of both psychological and occult varieties.
  • Gory Discretion Shot:
    • We see fragments of Peter's bloodied face when he smashes his head on his desk.
    • Also horribly, horribly subverted with Charlie's death. The camera cuts away right as it happens, and we just get a very long shot of Peter realizing (or rather struggling to realize) what just happened before he drives home and climbs into bed. All this time we don't see Charlie's body. However, right after we hear Annie find the body offscreen and scream in anguish, it smash cuts to Charlie's head on the side of the road being eaten by ants.
    • Played with during and after Annie's death. We see horrifying shots of her gruesomely slicing through her own neck with wire, but as the camera follows Peter as he jumps out the window, we hear a thump. We then later see Annie's headless body float away.
  • Gross-Up Close-Up: Have fun with the close-up shot of a child's severed head being eaten away by ants!
  • Head Desk: Played for Horror when Peter gets possessed in class and smashes his face into his desk twice with enough force to break his nose.
  • Gut Punch: Charlie's death by decapitation immediately sets the tone for the rest of film, obliterating all prospects of it being a standard family horror and unveiling the true darkness at its core. For some, the effect of this was amplified by the film's trailers strongly implying that the movie would center around the family's grief towards Ellen's death, not Charlie's, and that Charlie would spend the film's runtime as a Creepy Child responsible for everything that goes wrong.
  • Heel–Face Door-Slam: Annie is clearly undergoing Sanity Slippage, and she's antagonistic with Peter before she starts uncovering the cult's plans for her children and attempts for a Heroic Sacrifice to save her only remaining child. Instead, her husband is incinerated before her very eyes as she screams in grief and horror, and the next time we see her, she is transformed into an unspeaking monster terrorizing Peter and helping the cult thanks to Demonic Possession.
  • Hell Is That Noise:
    • The trailer features a soundtrack of almost nothing but "Psycho" Strings and Charlie making a clicking noise with her tongue.
    • The second trailer features a very psychotic "cuckoo" sound made by somebody (possibly Charlie) that sounds like a cuckoo clock from Hell.
    • Annie's agonized screams when she finds Charlie's decapitated body.
  • Hereditary Suicide: Annie's father starved himself to death, her brother Charles hanged himself, and Annie doused herself and her children Peter and Charlie in paint thinner and was about to set them alight. In her sleep. This turns out to be because of a curse on their family, which ultimately comes true when Annie (possessed by the demon Paimon) saws off her own head with razor wire and Peter, overcome with grief and terror, tries to jump to his death through a window. Too bad for him that that's actually what the cult has wanted all along, and he is possessed by Paimon/Charlie regardless of whether he does or doesn't survive the fall.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Attempted and subverted. Annie has resented her son for much of the movie (and to a degree, even before that due to her own mother pressuring her to have children she didn't want) and is so focused on contacting her dead daughter that she loses any regard for his mental state. Believing Charlie's sketchbook has been cursed and something horrible will happen to Peter unless she does something, Annie tries to destroy the sketchbook to save Peter, believing it will burn her to death in the process. However, Steve burns instead and she becomes possessed, forced to assist in Peter's possession.
  • I Cannot Self-Terminate: Annie begs Steve to put Charlie's sketchbook into their fireplace because she wants to save Peter, but as she believes doing so will immolate her with it, she is too afraid to do it herself. When Steve refuses, Annie runs and throws it into the fireplace in a fit of desperation... only for Steve to burst into flames right in front of her instead.
  • Infodump: The film opens with a wall-of-text obituary for Ellen, introducing us to the members of the Leigh family.
  • Insistent Terminology: Meta, downplayed. Ari Aster has routinely summarized the film as "a family drama that curdles into a nightmare" rather than an outright horror film, seeing the drama and horror as two inseparable halves. He took great inspiration from domestic dramas while writing the film, pitched it as a family tragedy, and screened far more domestic dramas than horror films for his crew before production began. He has explained that he strove for the film's foundation to be its family dynamics, from which bleak, dark emotions arise that can be audience-alienating in a straightforward drama but audience-attracting when turned into horror set-pieces.
  • In Spite of a Nail: When Annie thinks that destroying Charlie's sketchbook is the key to freeing the Grahams. It isn't. All this succeeds in accomplishing is burning Steve alive, which implication suggests Paimon could've done at any given point. There's more than one Meaningful Background Event demonstrating that Paimon's cult has tried in many ways to reel Annie in before actually succeeding; this is just the way that happens to work out.
  • Irony: Annie's extended character arc is played this way — the closer she comes to finding the truth, the more she comes across as going completely insane to the people in her life, and her final revelation is a cruel irony in itself: she has learned all that's happening, but her notions of acting in sacrifice to stop the evil prove completely meaningless and futile.
  • Jump Scare: The film has been praised for building its tension without relying on these, but it still has a few jolts.
    • After Charlie's death, a grief-stricken Annie is driving in her car when, all of a sudden, she hears Charlie's signature tongue click from the back of her car only to find no one's there.
    • When Peter finds his father's burnt corpse in the living room, a possessed Annie is seen hanging on the ceiling. Just as we're anticipating her attacking Peter, Peter spots a smiling naked man standing in a doorway. He then looks to the spot where Annie was previously only to find nothing there...after which Annie comes right out of a shadowy corner and chases after Peter.
  • Kill It with Fire:
    • Subverted. At some point in the past, a sleepwalking Annie had attempted to do a Murder-Suicide with her children, dousing all three of them in paint thinner before planning on dropping a lit match. However, she woke up just as the match was lit and was able to stop herself.
    • Double subverted. At one point, Annie attempting to burn the sketchbook resulted in her arm catching fire. She later begs Steve to finish the job, believing that she will fully go up in flames. When he resists, however, she takes the book from him and throws it in herself, causing him to spontaneously combust.
  • Leave the Camera Running:
    • Right after Charlie is decapitated, there is an uncomfortably long shot of Peter's face as he enters a deep shock. The audience is generally just as shocked as he is, making it very effective.
    • The shot of Peter wandering through the garden and back into the treehouse after throwing himself out of the window is also uncomfortably long until it culminates in the ending.
  • Logo Joke: In the trailer, the A24 logo appears as the camera pans under the ground at Charlie's funeral.
  • Male Gaze: We're introduced to Bridget, Peter's love interest, by him staring at her butt in class.
  • Manly Tears: With Charlie dead and Peter and Annie seemingly going insane with grief and guilt, the reserved Steve, who throughout the whole film has been quiet and focused on supporting his family, has a moment where he bursts into tears at a stoplight while no one's around to see it.
  • Match Cut: Multiple of such cuts transitioning from day to night (or vice versa) appear throughout. Notable examples include a cut between a shot of a shell-shocked Peter sitting at the foot of his bed to a shot of him sitting in class with the same expression, as well as one between a daytime exterior of the Graham house and a nighttime exterior where naked cultists surround the house.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: For much of the movie, it's unclear if the events are actually supernatural or due to hereditary mental illness that only Steve (who married into the family) is able to recognize. Steve finds out that everything is completely real when he tries to throw Charlie's sketchbook into the fireplace and bursts into flames, and the Paimon cult arrives.
  • Mind Screw: The entire movie feels like this, especially when the horror elements seem to occur.
  • A Mistake Is Born: Annie confesses to Peter that she never wanted to have him. She even tried to miscarry him in numerous ways but he prevailed. She adds that after he was born she was happy to have him. However, he reminds her that she still tried to kill him and his sister while sleepwalking.
  • Mother Nature, Father Science: Joan and Ellen are both "Mother Nature" (to a horrific supernatural extent) and Annie eventually comes to accept this, while Steve is "Father Science."
  • Murder-Suicide: Almost happened with sleepwalking Annie to her sleeping kids in backstory, drenching them all with paint thinner and waking up with a lit match in her hand.
  • Neurodiversity Is Supernatural: While the film allegorically comments on mental illness, within the story, the presence of mental disorders turns out to be something else. Charlie acts disconnected and unusual in a way that suggests she might be on the autism spectrum, and Annie mentions her mother had dissociative identity disorder and her brother died due to unchecked paranoid schizophrenia (fearing that his mother was trying to "put people in him"), but all of these mental illnesses are indicated to actually be entirely due to the reality of Queen Leigh's cult and possessions by the demon Paimon. Ellen Leigh herself may have channeled Paimon and was medically interpreted as a system with DID because Paimon's personality fully took over hers occasionally. Charles Leigh was paranoid because he was groomed as a vessel for Paimon and was literally threatened by people being put into him, and Charlie was displaced by Paimon's spirit since her birth, explaining her withdrawn and macabre behavior.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: An instance where usage of this trope isn't necessarily a bad thing, as most of the film's twists stay hidden.
    • First and foremost, the trailer makes the film seem like a generic, uninteresting, low-grade, Hollywood schlock horror film full of cheap scares by featuring the exact same tired, recycled editing style that trailers for all those kinds of films tend to get. The film itself is anything but generic, uninteresting, low-grade, Hollywood schlock full of cheap scares.
    • The trailer gives the impression that Annie spends the film struggling with her grief over her mother's death, and Charlie is some kind of unstable Creepy Child responsible for everything that goes wrong in the movie. Charlie dies in a horrible accident early in the film, and grief over her death is the one that the family spends so much of the film struggling with, rather than Ellen's.
    • The trailer also makes makes no mention of the Goetic demons or the fact that the film is basically one big Summoning Ritual.
  • Nightmare Face:
    • All of Annie's expressions of complete horror, grief, and agony.
    • Promptly before slamming his head into his class desk, Peter's face becomes distinctly and horrifically disfigured.
  • Nothing Is Scarier:
    • One scene has Annie see her mother's ghost in the corner of the room. The apparition does nothing but stand there and then disappear when the lights turn on.
    • In another scene, Charlie is led into the forest by a strange light and sees a mysterious figure in the distance surrounded by fire. Annie stops her before she gets any closer, and we never find out who that mysterious person is.
    • After Charlie's decapitation, the film spends a good few minutes focused on Peter's face, not even showing the body...until the next morning.
    • Twice, Peter wakes up to seeing Charlie's ghost in his room; both times turn out to be figments of his imagination.
  • Offing the Offspring:
    • In backstory, Annie almost committed a Murder-Suicide with her children while sleepwalking, though she was horrified when she woke up and stopped it. She later has a nightmare in which she goes through with it this time to kill herself and Peter.
    • Ellen willingly sacrifices her children and her children's children out of greed, being implied to have driven her own son to suicide when trying to turn him into a host for Paimon. She succeeds in turning her granddaughter into a host, but because Paimon is dissatisfied with a female host, he instructs her followers to kill her granddaughter and turn her grandson into the new host. Her plan also results in her daughter, suggested to be someone she did care for, to lose herself and die gruesomely.
  • Off with His Head!: A pigeon, Charlie, and ultimately Annie are all decapitated. Ellen's body is also found without its head. There are two factors that seem to play into this repeated event—Paimon is depicted in the demonology book with three heads hanging at his waist, suggesting that a sequence of three decapitations was part of the ritual to appease him and give him a new body, and Charlie and Annie both hosted Paimon until their decapitations, suggesting that he can only leave a body if its head has been cut off.
  • One-Word Title: Hereditary.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Joan tells Annie that her son and 7-year-old grandson died and caused her to seek out group therapy, though later revelations about Joan imply that it's a lie to get Annie's sympathy. It's horribly used earlier when Charlie is beheaded in a freak accident.
  • Parents as People: Annie and Steve love Charlie and Peter, and they try to protect and help them. Unfortunately, Annie comes from a traumatic background and is a Broken Bird and resenter with deep, unresolved psychological issues, all of which occasionally causes her be impatient with Charlie or lash out at Peter. When it comes down to it, though, she is willing to do whatever it takes to save them. Steve appears far more well-adjusted than his wife and is somewhat stern but protective, patient, and understanding. That still doesn't mean he is any more capable than Annie of protecting his family from everything.
  • Pet the Dog: Albeit a very dark example, Annie constantly sobs that she loves Peter even when she is trying to describe why she attempted to miscarry him many years before.
  • Plot Allergy: Charlie is allergic to nuts. Unknowingly eating walnut-laden cake at a party is what sets off the chain of events that leads to her untimely death.
  • Psychotic Smirk: Peter gets one from his own reflection while he's at school.
  • Realistic Diction Is Unrealistic: Notably averted with the line "that fucking face on your face," which is a bit silly but sounds exactly like what someone in the middle of an anger and grief-filled rant might say.
  • Red Herring: It is hinted that Charlie's spirit is trying to kill Peter in revenge for his hand in her death, with the appearance of a Charlie apparition, her sketchbook filling with images of Peter's face with crossed-out eyes, and Peter believing he felt someone trying to pull his head off. However, Charlie's spirit is not responsible for the supernatural activity and the real culprits are the cultists, trying to get Peter possessed by Charlie—or rather, the demon king Paimon, who had been possessing Charlie.
  • Religion of Evil: Almost all the wrongdoings throughout the film are caused by a cult devoted to the worship of the demon Paimon.
  • The Resenter:
    • Annie towards both her late, controlling mother and the children her mother pressured her into having, when she didn't even want to be a mother herself. She has largely overcome or repressed these feelings, particularly towards her children whom she does genuinely love, by the start of the movie, but it comes out more and more as she undergoes her Trauma Conga Line.
    • Likewise, both Steve and Peter are claimed later on to be this to Annie, stemming from an incident where Peter woke up as she was about to light him, Charlie, and herself on fire as they slept and she sleepwalked. She insists she didn't mean it, but Peter doesn't quite believe her, though he never brings this up himself and Annie is edging into paranoia, leaving room for her as an Unreliable Narrator. He does accuse her of having also been partially responsible for Charlie's death, though only after she blames him first in a heated and emotional clash. Steve has had a hard time trusting Annie after the incident, which has put strain on their marriage.
  • Room Full of Crazy: When Annie goes to confront Joan, her once-neat and homely apartment is shown to be a mess, with the central living space completely taken over by an altar featuring Charlie's handmade figurines and a photo of Peter.
    • Also, the cultists turn the treehouse into this in the ending, in preparation for Paimon's return.
  • Say My Name: Annie cries out Charlie's name while wailing in inconsolable grief after finding her body.
  • Secret Squatter: Although it's never explicitly confirmed, it's heavily implied that several cult members have been hiding in the Grahams' house for a long period of time, judging by the messages written on the walls, Ellen's room door being opened by an unknown party, the unexplained noises at night, and how quickly they turn up to complete the ritual.
  • Shout-Out: Ari Aster stated in interviews that Brian De Palma's Carrie film was so formative for his cinematic horror education as a child that making a horror film without at least subconsciously drawing upon his experience with the film would be impossible for him. Fittingly, he confirmed that the wide-eyed stare Annie gives Peter as she saws her own head off is a nod to Sissy Spacek's famously haunting blank look during Carrie's prom rampage.
  • Single Tear: A shell-shocked Peter sheds one after Charlie's death.
  • Sleepwalking: Annie has this habit. During one of her trips, she almost killed herself and her children with a can of paint thinner and a match. However, it may not be sleepwalking at all, but possession or cult magic.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance:
  • Spiritual Successor: One could think of this movie as The VVitch but set in the 21st century. It shares a same producer, distributor, and has a similar ending. Both movies begin with a family in grief. Both movies have a scene where the older sibling contributes a horrific fate to their younger sibling. Both movies are about a witch-like supernatural entity haunting the household, and end with the surviving member getting possessed by a demon in a similar environment. And both families have a dog.
  • Spooky Séance: Joan conducts a two-person version. It works, but it's left ambiguous as to whether or not she is actually summoning the spirit of her dead grandson. Either way, the whole thing is a scam in order to convince Annie to perform an incantation in her own home, which sets the overtly supernatural events of the movie in motion.
  • Stunned Silence: Peter's reaction to Charlie being decapitated by a telephone pole.
  • There Are No Therapists:
    • Averted with Annie, who attends group therapy for dealing with grief over the death of her mother.
    • Played straight in that no one even suggests that the Grahams see a family therapist to deal with the immense trauma of Charlie's horrific death, for which both Peter and Annie were partly to blame and for which Annie resents Peter.
    • Word of God states that Steve was actually once Annie's therapist before the two got married and had children.
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: Peter's eyes when we see him in bed the morning after the accident.
  • Til Murder Do Us Part: Possibly. It's not explicitly stated, but in retrospect, while Annie always thought her father starved to death because of mental illness, it's more likely that Ellen had a hand in her husband's death because it served her purposes.
  • Toy-Based Characterization: Charlie is a Creepy Child who enjoys crafting disturbing little dolls out of various odds and ends, including metal bits and dead animal parts. In real life, A24 promoted the film by leaving her dolls outside the doorsteps of people who attended screenings.
  • Trauma Conga Line: The entire film is this for Peter—his relationship with his mother is revealed to have shattered when she tried to immolate him, herself, and Charlie while sleepwalking, Peter finds himself partially responsible for what seems like the freak-accident death of his younger sister, he struggles with mental instability and control of his body, and his mother slips into insanity. Ultimately, Peter wakes one night to find his father burnt to a crisp, creepy naked people in the house, and his mother possessed and sawing her head off with wire. Justified in-universe as it is necessary for the summoning ritual to work properly, as the host Paimon selects is the "most vulnerable" person available, thus requiring that when Paimon wants a specific host, that they be mentally broken down. Annie is also subject to the same trauma, and her backstory shows that this goes back to way before the film's events. Arguably this in service of Peter's further trauma.
  • Treehouse of Fun: Charlie loves her treehouse, where she sleeps and spends most of her time. Becomes a much darker example when it turns out to be Paimon's lair, where he returns at the end of the movie.
  • Villainous Lineage: The title Hereditary, likely referring either to Ellen's bloodline being the only suitable hosts for Paimon, or Annie tragically becoming a figure of fear and abuse to Peter as her own mother had been to her.
  • Water Wake-up: Steve throws a glass of water at Annie to bring her out of her fit of demonic possession during the séance.
  • Wham Line:
    • In the séance scene:
    Annie (in Charlie's voice): Hello?
    • During Annie's nightmare, she goes into Peter's room to see him and inadvertently admits:
      Annie: I never wanted to be your mother.
  • Wham Shot: In the séance scene, the glass moving on its own is the viewer's first explicit indication that something legitimately supernatural is in fact going on.
  • Wild Teen Party: Peter is invited to one and tries to sell the event as a school barbeque to his mother in order to get the car.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Seeing as the cultists are implied to have set up 13-year-old Charlie's decapitation...yeah.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Discussed in one of Peter's classes as an instrument of tragedies. It turns out to be depressingly applicable to the Grahams, with Charlie a pawn and Sacrificial Lamb in the cult's plans, Annie mentally destroyed and forced against her will to serve Paimon, and Peter forced to become a host to Paimon as his grandmother had long promised Paimon a male host and plotted for years to use a member of her own family. Steve is the only member of the family who doesn't have a role in the Evil Plan, but he's equally helpless to save his family.


Video Example(s):



When the Graham family's secretive grandmother and matriarch, Ellen Graham, passes away, the family - miniaturist mother Annie (Collette), father Steve (Byrne), daughter Charlie (Shapiro), and son Peter (Wolff) - begins to unravel cryptic and increasingly terrifying secrets about their ancestry. The more they discover, the more they find themselves trying to outrun the sinister fate they seem to have inherited.

How well does it match the trope?

4.6 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / PsychologicalHorror

Media sources: