Spoiler Alert: This article touches upon Hereditary's plot, ending, and most shocking scenes.
Based on the unsettling stories from the filming of Hereditary, the movie might have been as scary behind the scenes as it is to watch. Ari Aster's feature debut is a master class of emotional manipulation. Hailed as the most frightening film of 2018, it burns through terrifying elements like they're going out of style. The movie has everything - satanic rituals, possessions, séances, demons crawling upside-down on ceilings, secrets hidden in the attic, dead birds, the specter of mental illness, and Ann Dowd yelling, "I expel you!"
Aster's heavily lauded script scratches the surface when it comes to terror, and the cast has all shared creepy stories from behind the scenes of Hereditary. Everything about the making of the film was emotionally taxing – from painstakingly planning out each shot to cutting over an hour of footage. Between cast members taking home severed heads and getting so disturbed they needed therapy, these horror movie facts prove Hereditary was as emotionally exhausting for the cast and crew as it was for everyone watching in theaters.
Every horror movie has that moment – the one that sticks with audiences well after the film is over. For Hereditary, it was the shocking sequence where Charlie (played by Milly Shapiro) is inadvertently beheaded while being rushed to the hospital. Charlie's severed head is like the trophy of Hereditary's unlikely box office success, and Shapiro tried to take it home after filming. She did, after all, spend the time having a mold made of her face. Shapiro told Thrillist:
"I really want my head so badly, to have it and to display it and scare people with it. I've sneakily mentioned it a few times. Like, 'Oh, if you're not doing anything with it, I'll just keep it in a fruit bowl. It will be really fun.' I really want it though. Halloween's my favorite holiday, and there are so many cool things I could do with it."
The scene where Alex Wolff becomes possessed in the middle of class is one of the most startling parts of his performance. An invisible force takes over his character, Peter, and starts contorting his body and slamming his head into his desk. As it turns out, the moment was a bit more genuine than viewers might imagine, as Wolff ended up drawing real blood. Wolff told The Wrap:
“I had to have the blood shoot out perfectly out of my nose and jump back and do that whole thing. I remember after, I was just panting, my voice is gone, blood is dripping down everywhere, and blood is gushing down my knee - real blood gushing down my knee because I slammed it against a chair. I couldn’t move my arm, my complete ankle was swollen - it looked like a balloon.”
Real occult texts inspired Hereditary's ending - Aster found them so disturbing that he stopped reading the minute he scratched the surface enough to write Paimon into the script. He told Vox:
I did do a lot of research, especially into witchcraft and how one might cast a spell and how to conduct one of these rituals. It was very disturbing for me, and I had to move away from it once I’d gotten what I needed. I’m sure that I’m going to be called out by occultists for taking liberty where I might have. But ultimately, I have no ties to the occult. In any way. I’m just a Jewish guy. I’m just a neurotic Jewish guy.
Ari Aster did his homework researching the occult for his debut feature. How deep did his research go? As it turns out, Paimon exists in occult lore. The demon, sometimes referred to as a "King of Hell," is Lucifer's right-hand man. Depictions often show him as a man riding a camel and wearing a crown.
In Hereditary, we get to see Paimon's demonic allure, and he's summoned similar to grimoire lore. That symbol used all around the film is the actual Seal of Paimon, and it must be drawn to conjure the beast. Some texts say a sacrifice is required, which might be why the symbol is drawn above Ellen's body in the attic and carved into the telephone pole that ultimately takes Charlie's life.