This is full of spoilers for the end of Hereditary. So, if you want to go into the film blind, stop reading now.
Hereditary is one of the more divisive films in recent memory. Half of audiences love the slow burn, pull-out-all-the-stops intensity of the movie. The rest, meanwhile get thrown into an emotional spiral by the bleak tone. The one thing uniting these groups, however, is the shared confusion over the final moments of the film.
The climax of this emotional rollercoaster couched in a horror movie sees the only surviving member of the Graham family possessed by the demon Paimon. But who is Paimon? Is he real, or a character created by the filmmakers? If you left the theater wondering what the ending of Hereditary means, you are by no means alone.
At the end of the Hereditary, audience members may wonder whether Paimon, the demon who destroys the Graham family and takes over the body of Peter (Alex Wolff), exists in religious lore. Rather than simply make up a demon, Hereditary director Ari Aster decided to pull a creature from the Lesser Key of Solomon, a grimoire that heavily influenced Aleister Crowley.
King Paimon, whose symbol appears throughout the film, is one of Hell's main demons and commands 200 legions. According to the Lesser Key of Solomon, Paimon is "very obedient unto LUCIFER. He appeareth in the form of a Man sitting upon a Dromedary with a Crown most glorious upon his head."
Anyone who calls upon Paimon must be strong-willed and have an offering ready for him. And though no one knows what happens to those who aren't prepared, it's probably not good.
It's easy to get overwhelmed by everything happening in the final moments of Hereditary. To some, it may even feel like the explosion of demonic violence comes out of nowhere – but detail-oriented or repeat viewers know differently. Throughout the film, Annie (Toni Collette) drops hints about what's actually happening to the family.
At one point, Annie mentions her brother killing himself because their mother was "trying to put people in him." By the end of the film, the audience realizes Annie's mother literally tried putting Paimon inside of a male host, and Annie's brother got out of the situation the only way he knew how.
Many viewers believe Annie tries killing her son, Peter, to keep him from becoming a vessel for Paimon. Though Annie wasn't fully aware of her mother's actions, she seems to suspect wrongdoing.
Annie never overtly states her intentions, but she reveals she once tried setting her children on fire during a bout of sleepwalking, and in a dream she admits wanting to give herself a miscarriage. In a way, Annie feels she's failed one of her children, admitting she "gave" her daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) to her mother, Ellen.
Director Ari Aster says the entire film is essentially a large ritual that takes place inside a multi-generational spell. Instead of following those carrying out the plan, however, the audience watches the "sacrificial lambs." Everything that happens in the movie - the sigils, the jarring death of Charlie, the faux-seance - is done to put Paimon into Peter's body.
Aster says the viewer shouldn't realize the situation until it's too late, as audiences "are with the family in their ignorance of what’s happening."