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And the fact the family is completely
unaware adds to the terror. One way that I pitched the film when
I was first taking it out was “it’s a story about a long-lived
possession ritual told from the perspective of the sacrificial lamb.”
Ultimately we are with the family in their ignorance of what’s really
happening. But I also wanted to imbue the film with this sinister, more
knowing perspective. Even though we are with the family in their
ignorance, the movie itself knows exactly where the story is going. And
everything is inevitable. Throughout the film, things are just sort of
clicking into place and all those things are driving this family towards
one end.

In an early scene, the subject of free
will is discussed. Are you saying this family has no free will?
Yeah, absolutely. I see the film as being very Greek in that sense. This
is absolutely inevitable, the family has absolutely no agency.

There is nothing Annie can do to stop
this from happening? No, I don’t think so. That’s where the
dollhouses came in. Annie creates these miniature figures and dollhouses
and they served as a perfect metaphor for the situation; they’re dolls
in a dollhouse being manipulated by outside forces. Any control they try
to seize is hopeless.

Is that why she thinks she can stop it
by burning the Charlie’s sketchbook – the first time she tries, she
catches fire — but the second time, her husband Steve catches
fire? Exactly. Even that scene is meant to play as Annie’s big
redemptive moment, she’s going to sacrifice herself for her son. It’s a
beautiful gesture but part of the cruel logic of the film is it’s an
empty gesture. Ultimately, it’s not her choice to make. She thinks
there’s a design here and she can end things if she sacrifices herself.
But there’s no design and there are no rules. There is a malicious logic
at play.

Could it have been prevented if she
hadn’t been tricked into casting the spell given to her by Joan?
The thing is, that scene is ultimately a red herring, and it’s a piece
of misdirection. It plays as a séance scene but really it’s a much
darker conjuring and they need Annie to take part in it in order to
bring it in the house and in order to further this ritual along. When
she invites it in, she escalates things. But it would’ve happened
anyway, we’re just seeing how it happened. We’re seeing one of the ways
it could play out.

There’s a lot of talk about what a bad
mother Annie’s mother was. Did she just have kids for the purpose of
this ritual? That’s pretty much what is suggested. If you listen
to Annie’s speech at the group therapy, there are a lot of keys in her
monologue as to what came before this and how far back this goes.

Early on, Charlie cuts the head off a
pigeon and makes a strange figurine out of it. Can you elaborate on
that? I don’t want to be too obvious but we find later that
Charlie has been building these figurines to populate a diorama she’s
been building that serves as a shrine to Paimon. It also functions as a
metaphor for what Paimon is doing to this family. If you look at the
diorama you’ll see they’re headless figurines bowing to a pigeon-headed
creature with a crown on its head, which is not far away from what we’re
left with in the last scene of the film.

Annie talks about how her mother got
“her hooks” into Charlie at an early age. Are we meant to think Charlie
is in on it? Charlie is the first successful host for Paimon.
It’s transferred from Charlie to Peter at the end.

Because Paimon wants a male
body? Exactly.

Is there ever a Charlie or is she
Paimon from the moment she’s born? From the moment she’s born. I
mean, there’s a girl that was displaced, but she was displaced from the
very beginning.

In an odd way, that makes me feel
better. (Laughs) That’s nice. See, it’s a happy ending. But
obviously, there’s a boy who’s horribly displaced by the end.


Is Paimon a real thing? He is!
Well, real in the sense that if you believe in hell and the Devil,
Paimon is an actual entity that people do worship. Across various
sources, he is designated
as “a
great King,” “one of the chief demons,” and “one of the most
significant Angelick
He pledges intense fealty to Lucifer, and is often rendered riding atop
a camel (as we see in the movie).

There are conflicting points of view on whether or not Paimon and the
demon Azazel are the same. According to the Black Witch
“He is one of the demonic princes overseeing the four cardinal
directions, West being his domain,” which is why Joan (Ann Dowd) and her
minions “looked to the Northwest” to summon him in the movie. According
to the Joy of Satan Ministries, “Paimon gives the power to influence and
control others,” and that seems to scan with how he operates in Hereditary. However, the Ministries
also describe the hell
king as
“full of energy. Loud noises and bright lights tend to make him more
active. He is very colorful and very friendly.” Maybe the “party naked”
side of him just got left on the cutting-room floor, because that guy
seems like a downer.

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What are the “rewards” Annie’s mom
wrote to her about in that note? In the Invocations book that Annie pulls out
of her mom’s box of things, a photo opposite the image of Paimon shows a
person sitting atop a mound of treasure that says “Riches to the
conjurer” in a caption beneath. When Joan speaks to Peter/Charlie at the
end and crowns him, she asks Paimon to give her and the other followers
“knowledge of all secret things, honor, wealth, and good
She also asks that he bind all men to them, as the worshippers have
bound themselves to Paimon.

Those sound like “riches,” and what with a king of hell being
resurrected, being recognized as one of his privileged followers will
probably be a lot safer than, well, not. In a description of his
abilities, Satan Ministries says Paimon “teaches the arts and sciences”
in addition to providing “good familiars and gives one position and
honor. He can reveal anything about the Earth and one’s mind.” At least
some rulers recognize the
necessity of science education!

So is Peter Charlie? Or is Peter
Paimon? It’s likely that Charlie never knew she was imbued with
the spirit of a king of hell, but as Annie says in her grief-counseling
group, her mother got “her hooks” in the young girl from the time she
was a baby. (Annie’s mom, Ellen, even insisted on feeding baby Charlie —
and one of the miniatures depicts grandma offering the infant her
exposed breast — which is probably the most unremarked upon insane thing
that happens in Hereditary!) As
we learn in the opening eulogy, Annie’s mom had “private rituals” and
“private friends,” a lot of which probably revolved around putting
Paimon into Charlie.

Clearly, though, the long game was to get Paimon into Peter, since
Paimon desires a male host, and Charlie sure didn’t seem like she knew
she was a preferred underling of the Morning Star! So Paimon was bound
to Charlie, and when that little light flash dissolves into Peter’s limp
body after he pitches himself out of the attic window at the end, that’s
the spirit entering him. With the transfer complete, Joan seems like
she’s ready to let Charlie (in Peter’s body) know about everything
that’s been going on, and who she really is.

Remember, too, that Annie’s brother hung himself at the age of 16,
leaving a note behind saying that his mother had been trying put people
inside of him. Ellen failed to secure her son as a host, and she missed
her first shot with Peter since Annie had excommunicated her, so she
used Charlie as a temporary vessel until the ritual was able to be
completed later on. As Aster told Vulture, “The film is about a
long-lived possession ritual that is seen from the perspective of the
sacrificial lambs.”

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With that in mind, you can think of the movie’s sinister events as being
carried out by an invisible hand, of sorts. That sigil painted above
grandma’s headless body in the attic? It’s the actual symbol of
and it was also carved in the utility pole that tore Charlie’s head off.
The leafy bit that Annie brushed off her lip when she was drinking tea
at Joan’s apartment? Probably a witches brew of some kind (or another
red herring, because by now you’re paranoid!). Peter feeling his throat
close up and taking the posture of Charlie’s decapitated body before
ramming his head into a desk? His body was being primed for a spiritual
takeover. Those scrapbook photos of Ellen wearing a white dress and a
veil as she’s being showered with gold coins? That sure looks like a
wedding ritual, once you see her framed portrait in the satanic tree
house, which has a placard with “Queen Leigh” fixed to the top. Does
that mean grandma was spiritually married to her granddaughter and
therefore breastfed her husband-grandchild when she was an infant? It
seems like it!

Did Annie do any of those weird things
— decapitating her dead mom’s body, spying on Peter outside his window —
or was it the Paimon cult? Aster told Vulture that, “The audience
is supposed to suspect that it might be Annie (Toni
but it is the cult of which Ann Dowd is a very significant part. But you
are supposed to feel through the film that there are people on the
periphery that are watching this family and are hovering just outside.”
Therefore, Annie’s sleepwalking was not resulting in her exhuming bodies
and cutting their heads off. It was a red herring! Aster laid a sort of
bread crumb trail throughout the whole movie, tipping the audience off
that the Grahams were always being watched by associates of Ellen and
Joan: the man who smiled at Charlie at Ellen’s funeral, all those “new
faces” who mourned her death, the woman waving at Charlie across the
street from her school, the person breathing in the dark outside of
Peter’s window — all of whom we probably saw naked in the tree house
during the finale.

What was with that book setting people
on fire? It seems like a safe bet that the book was bound to
protect itself. The cult did demonstrate they had a pretty long reach
when it came to influencing events, and they even stashed a whole
headless body in the Graham’s attic when no one was looking. When Annie
tried to destroy the book, it protected itself, but Annie was also
essential to completing the possession ritual, so she couldn’t just
burst into flames and die. We’ll call that a warning shot by the book.

But Steve (Gabriel Byrne)? He had to get out of the way, and the moment
he died, Annie stopped being Annie and started being an agent of Paimon,
much like when she channeled Charlie into her own body during the
previous seance. When that ring of light flashes over her, that’s Paimon
beaming into a new host, as Collette explained to
“Ari was standing to the side, and he let me watch this person be on
fire for a while [laughs] and
then he said, ‘Okay. Now, Paimon, the light, is going to enter you.’ We
never talked about what that would ever look like or be like. I just did
one take and that was it.” And that, ladies and gentlemen, is called

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What about Annie’s sleepwalking,
then? Go with us on this one. What if the sleepwalking was
Annie’s subconscious way of fighting her mother and the ritual? She
tried to set Peter and Charlie on fire once before, but snapped out of
it, right? And then in the dream we see where she admits she wanted to
abort Peter but her mom wouldn’t allow it — and so she tried to force a
miscarriage — she screams at him, “I wasn’t trying to kill you! I was
trying to protect you!” Somewhere in Annie’s subconscious, she must have
known her children were in danger, and just as her brother had to kill
himself to escape Ellen’s clutches when he was a teenager, Annie must
have known deep down that as long as the kids were alive they were
existentially threatened.

As Collette told Vulture, in that moment Annie is surfacing what’s in
her subconscious, which “allows the audience to know that this is a kind
of murky, not entirely understood, gray area about the safety of her
children and the intention behind the creation of them — and how her
mother was involved, right? So it’s still not entirely clear, but there
is an indication of some concern there.” Annie realizes after it’s too
late, though, that she part of that threat, and must die if she wants to
protect her kids. But by that point the toothpaste is out of the tube,
and it just isn’t going back in.

Are the decapitations part of
Paimon-related lore? Not really. Aster added that element
himself, and he’s not into explaining why. As he told Vulture, “I think
it would be disingenuous for me to give any sort of intellectual answer.
I feel like there are a lot of really good reasons and I like all of
them, but uttering them kind of robs them of something. But I do like
all the things that they might provoke in somebody.” As for Collette,
she has formed her own theory about all the rolling heads. “We’re so
attached to our bodies, we’re so attached to the brain and the mind.
They’re like the control center, and that once you lose that
metaphorically, you become nothing, and therefore you are able to give
yourself over to this greater force?” Speculate away!

So why did he use Paimon? No
special reason, really. Aster said to Vulture that he just didn’t want
to deploy Lucifer again, and hey, that’s fair. If you need a more
substantial explanation than that — just let it go. Sometimes creepy is


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