Hereditary knows exactly what it wants: to scare the ever-living hell out of you. Ari Aster’s debut feature film has been described by film critics as “the scariest movie of 2018” and even gave rise to the Heart Rate Challenge, which literally measured its viewers’ spiking heart rates as they had the sin scared out of them. Making the film an especially disturbing watch is its last 30 minutes, a batshit viewing experience in and of itself.
Spoilers for Hereditary follow below.
“Anybody who’s seen Hereditary understands that I clearly have no problem with excess,” Aster told Inverse’s Eric Francisco by phone. “People will either be able to go with that or not, but the film aims to reach pretty operatic heights.”
The film’s punishing, hair-raising final scenes are certainly part of what’s won it critical praise. While the majority of the film builds on character development of a family following the death of its estranged matriarch Ellen, its ending ratchets up the horror to such an extreme it’s nearly jarring. In a climactic and horrifying final twist, we find one of the film’s protagonists Peter (Alex Wolff) crowned the human host of a demon named Paimon while the headless corpses of his family bow before him.
This is all the apparent handiwork of a cult, which we’re to believe is responsible for the deaths of everyone in Peter’s family, including his odd but endearing 13-year-old sister Charlie (Milly Shapiro). It’s intense.
At a Q&A event following a screening at Brooklyn’s Alamo Drafthouse on Tuesday, Aster was asked by moderator and Rolling Stone senior editor David Fear about the pacing of the film — and specifically the “slow burn” that builds up to the film’s last, suspenseful half hour. Aster responded that it centers around a “long-lived possession ritual that’s playing out, but it’s told from the perspective of the sacrificial lambs.”
“We are with the family in their ignorance of what’s happening, but then there’s supposed to be this more sadistic, knowing perspective that you feel,” he said. “The film itself knows what’s happening and knows where we’re going. It was important to me that we riddled the film with all of these clues as to where we’re going. And at the end, there’s enough there for you to piece everything together. Even the last scene is not un-subtle.”
As for the pervasive nature of the film’s beheadings? The interpretation of their significance is something Aster would prefer to leave to audiences, he told Inverse. However, as it relates to Charlie’s death, Aster did confirm that it was very much “designed by the cult.”
“That was not as much of a freak accident as it might seem when you’re watching it for the first time,” he added. For most of us, it’s safe to say there will only be a first time.
Hereditary hits theaters everywhere Friday, June 8.