There’s an old expression in English which says never discuss religion or politics, or your thoughts on Hereditary. Director Ari Aster’s 2018 intellectual horror film divides opinions (there are those who love it and those who are wrong), but one thing most can agree on is that there is a lot going on in Hereditary, and much of it is below the surface. When the film ends, all viewers, love it or hate it, are left with an aftertaste of WTF and the sensation they didn’t understand everything. And they’re right. They didn’t. This article attempts to alleviate a little of that aftertaste.
Before getting underway, however, know the alternate title for this article is “Spoiler Alert” because it analyzes the film so deeply you may get the bends. If you haven’t seen the film, 1) this article won’t make any sense, 2) it might ruin any future viewing and 3) go fix yourself — see it immediately.
Here, then, are the Easter Eggs in Hereditary that you probably most definitely missed:
Get on Your Soapbox
In one of the film’s earliest scenes, Steven Graham (Gabriel Byrne) enters the treehouse to rouse his daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro). In the background, there is a makeshift altar set up on top of two wooden crates marked “Hercules Powder”. Why Hercules?
Because Hercules was a Roman god whose Greek counterpart, Heracles, is the main subject of Steven’s son high school English class. Remember this exchange?
Teacher (Morgan Lund as Mr. Davis): What is Heracles’ flaw?
Student (Mallory Bechtel as Bridget): Arrogance.
Mr. Davis: OK, why?
Bridget: Because he literally refuses to look at all the signs that are literally being handed to him
throughout the entire play.
The Grahams, literally, suffer from the same shortcoming throughout Hereditary. An example of their missing signs is this scene itself, where Steven ignores the boxes that are literally right in front of his face.
The cherry on the Easter egg cake? Steven’s line of dialogue (“For God’s sake, come on!”) could not be more ironic!
Keeping Abreast of the Situation
The woman of the house, Annie (portrayed in an Oscar-worthy tour-de-force by Toni Collette), makes miniatures of her life as an artistic endeavor. One of the dioramas she’s created shows her breast-feeding Charlie, with her mother standing at her bedside, offering up her own breast to her granddaughter.
This model is the physical re-creation of the film’s most important scene of exposition. When Annie is at a group session for grief recovery, she opens up and details the relationship between her mother and her children.
“I didn’t let her anywhere near me when I had my first, my son. Which is why I gave her my daughter, who she immediately stabbed her hooks into.”
By keeping her son Peter away from her mother, Annie made it impossible for Ellen to place Paimon inside Peter (Alex Wolff). Forced to accept her second choice, Ellen latched onto Charlie and was able to give the infant girl to Paimon as a temporary home.
That Ellen had to ‘make-do’ with Charlie is the impetus behind the entire film. Ellen has to get Paimon into Peter, and this dialog explains why she couldn’t in the first place, why Charlie had to die to free Paimon, and why Peter had to die to make room for the demon.
Building up to one of the most iconic horror scenes in recent memory (two words: telephone pole), Peter begrudgingly takes his sister Charlie to a friend’s party. When the siblings arrive, there are high school girls in the kitchen baking, and not the kind of baking Peter will soon be enjoying in a back bedroom. How is this unusual (other than high school girls making cookies from scratch at a party)? There are three youths in the kitchen, which is a reference to Shakespeare’s Macbeth that famously begins with three witches. But how are these young women witches? They are preparing a concoction that will cause Charlie to fulfill her destiny and lose her head.
Knock it off, Paimon
Remember when Annie spills the jar of paint? Look closely at the GIF, you’ll see she doesn’t spill it, Paimon does. The jar falls over before her hand can touch it, and, if you pay close attention to the upper right corner, you’ll note the blue light that represents Paimon’s influence.
Why does Paimon interfere here? Because Joan, one of the members of his cult, gave her phone number to Annie but Annie had forgotten it. The spilled paint reaches the paper, Annie picks it up and decides to contact Joan. That meeting will lead to the ceremony where Annie inadvertently calls up Paimon with Peter… But that’s another story.
If You Can’t Beat Them, Joan Them
Speaking of Joan, as the head Priestess of the Cult of Paimon after Ellen’s demise, she is arguably the strongest force in the background of the film. The entire Paimon sect is on the fringes of the action (remember when Peter exhaled the smoke from his bong and a mysterious stranger in the tree-house could be seen breathing in the cold night air?) but Joan is easily the most present, guiding the Grahams — and especially Annie — exactly where she wants them.
If the Grahams are damned even before the film begins, Joan is the conductor in that orchestration. When Annie attends the previously mentioned Grief Recovery group session, Joan is already there, waiting for her! Then, later on, Joan will catch up with Annie in the parking lot of the meeting space and pass her phone number to Annie so that the women can, literally, raise a little hell.
Apropos of that rendezvous, the ‘chance’ meeting Joan and Annie have in the parking lot of the crafts shop isn’t as innocent as that appears either. As the two women discuss Joan’s séance, Joan’s recent purchases are obvious in the back of her SUV: chalkboards, including the one her ‘grandson’ writes on during the ceremony at her dining room table.
And while we’re on the subject of the omnipresent cult, what about the blonde man who smiled at Charlie during Helen’s viewing, and then popped up in the closet on Peter’s fateful night!
A Head for Art
Obviously, there are Easter eggs throughout the movie, so it’s no surprise that the last scene of the film would be full of them. Hereditary ends in the tree-house, the same place it began. Except now the gods are no longer symbolic with their names printed on soap boxes, they have manifested.
When Paimon, recently inside Peter’s body, enters the tree-house he is confronted by an idol that is strikingly similar to the ones Charlie fabricated and lined along her desk, or decapitated dead pigeons to make. The similarity between those statuettes and this icon is as fitting as a dead animal head atop a statue, because here we have Charlie’s head affixed to a mannequin. It is a life-sized model of her creations.
Even the last image is an Easter egg. As the cult bow down to worship their recently arrived demon, we are left with a shot of the tree house surrounded by darkness. There are two reasons for this. The first is that the tree-house is now a miniature nativity scene, but instead of celebrating the birth of a savior, it’s glorifying the arrival of the devil. The second reason for the style is that it’s a nod to the film The Night of the Hunter.
That should be enough eggs to digest for the time being! Hopefully, these explanations will help you at least respect the film a little more if you didn’t enjoy it, or appreciate its genius all the more if you did. Hereditary may be divisive, but you’ll have to agree a lot of thought went into making a horror film that is so smart it’s scary smart.
For a scene by scene synopsis of Hereditary, complete with explanations and even more Easter eggs, please check out my review here.