It’s no secret that Hereditary is designed to shock you. The movie starts out slow, but before you know it you’re knee deep in a demon cult thriller full that refuses to let go until the very last second. There are plenty of difficult moments that will have you squirming in your seat, but one in particular stand out. I don’t think I’ll ever get it our of my brain, and I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what director Ari Aster was hoping for.
Warning: I’m going to be talking pretty openly about Hereditary spoilers from here on out.
First, a quick recap in case you managed to scrub that scene from your memory (or you haven’t seen the movie and you just don’t care about spoilers). Early on in in the story, when Hereditary still feels more like a family drama than a horror film, a suburban mom (Toni Collette) forces her pothead teenage son Peter (Alex Wolff) to take his troubled 13-year-old sister Charlie (Milly Shapiro) to a high school party.
As soon as they arrive, Peter ducks into a back room to smoke some weed, leaving his sister to fend for herself. Charlie ends up eating a piece of cake and triggering a severe nut allergy. Peter carries her back to the car and drives like a madman to the nearest hospital, but he never makes it.
As Charlie’s throat starts to close up she sticks her head out the window in an attempt to get some air. At the same time, Peter swerves while passing a telephone poll, lopping his sister’s head clear off with a sickening thud.
This is the moment that really sets the plot of Hereditary in motion. It’s easy to view Charlie’s death as a terrible accident with unexpected consequences. But the truth is far worse, and it’s been hiding in plain sight.
The first clue that something is amiss actually comes before Charlie’s death as Peter drive to the party. Hereditary uses the scene to show off the beautiful Utah landscape where the film was shot, before lingering on the very same telephone poll.
You might have missed it, but there’s a strange symbol etched into the telephone poll. At this point in the film it doesn’t mean much, but it comes back later on in a big way. We see the same symbol mysteriously turn up in Toni Collette’s art (intricately detailed, miniature models of their home and other scenes from her life). It’s also clearly written on the attic wall near the end of the film when grandma’s death, decapitated body is discovered hidden away up there. That alone is enough to suggest some sort of conspiracy.
Beyond those satanic symbols, Hereditary also pushes us to reconsider the cause of Charlie’s in another, more obvious way. After her daughter’s death, Collette obsesses over the accident, recreating it in shocking detail for one of her models. It’s almost like a miniature crime scene, pushing us to reconsider exactly what happened on that long stretch of empty road.
Hopefully, by now the point I’m trying to make is obvious: Charlie’s death wasn’t an accident and the film does it’s best to make that clear without simply stating it outright. Still not convinced? Don’t worry, I have an inside source.
In an interview with Inverse last week, Hereditary’s director all but confirmed that Charlie’s decapitation wasn’t a mistake, revealing that her shocking death was “designed by the cult.”
Aster went on to explain just how much effort went into shooting that one scene. “The most nerve-wracking was the driving sequence,” he told Inverse, adding that he “planned as much as possible” to get it just right.
Considering Aster’s meticulous attention detail, there are probably even more clues hidden in that scene and the moments surrounding it. But at the very least, it seems pretty clear that Charlie’s death is more important to the plot of Hereditary than you might have guessed. It’s not just a grisly accident. It’s a calculated first step in the evil plan that guides this story.
Hereditary is in theaters now.