HEREDITARY (2018): DIRECTOR ARI ASTER

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©2019, by M. Keith Booker

Upon its theatrical release, Hereditary became one of the most enthusiastically-reviewed horror films of all time, even if some reviewers seemed to feel it was too good to be considered a true horror film, suggesting the innate prejudice that some reviewers have against the genre. It is certainly the case that, through most of its runtime, Hereditary plays like a serious family drama to which hints of horror elements are quite marginal. Indeed, much of the importance of this film certainly lies in its comments on family, but then that is also the case with horror films such as The Shining, a film to which Hereditary has often been compared. Still, horror elements are present throughout Hereditary, and its central family, the Grahams, are haunted by death and tragedy from the film’s very first moments, which begin with on-screen text of an obituary for Ellen Taper Leigh, the recently-deceased mother of Annie Graham, accompanied by eerie horror film music. And, of course, the final moments of the film erupt into all-out supernatural horror (while leaving just a sliver of room to interpret the horror as a delusion on the part of one of the characters, as great horror films often do).

Much of Hereditary is quite literally a domestic drama—in both the way the action takes place within the Graham home and the way that home itself is a crucial part of the action. Toni Collette, in a riveting performance, plays Annie, an artist who constructs miniature models. Her husband, Steve Graham (Gabriel Byrne), is a professional. He seems possibly to be a psychiatrist or psychologist, but that is never made entirely clear in the film[1]. In any case, the Grahams seem prosperous and live in a large, well-appointed home. The first actual shot of the film comes from inside the house, looking through a window onto a fancy treehouse that has been constructed outside. It’s a sign of bourgeois prosperity, but also a sign that the family probably has children. The continuing eerie background music, though, suggests that the treehouse and the children might be central to the horror elements in the film, as they ultimately will be. As the camera pulls back from the window, then pans around the room, we see that we are inside Annie’s large workshop. The ongoing strange music suggests that this workshop will also be a focal point for horror in the film, something that is verified as the camera moves in on one of the models Annie is constructing—which turns out to be a model of the house itself.

The film’s image of the Graham home, in short, contains another image of the Graham home within itself, in the artistic effect known as the “mise en abyme.” As popularized in Lucien Dallenbach’s 1977 book Le récit spéculaire: Essai sur la mise en abyme, this effect has been widely employed by poststructuralist theorists as an example of the infinite regression that overtakes all attempts to produce closed interpretations of any linguistic artefact. If Annie’s model of the home is truly accurate, it will contain a smaller model of the home within itself, while that smaller model will contain an even smaller model, and so on, ad infinitum. The effect is unsettling, uncanny, and Annie’s models make an important contribution to the vague sense of unease that runs throughout this film. In this case, the effect is particularly emphasized by the music and by the fact that the camera slowly zooms in on the bedroom of the Grahams’ sixteen-year-old stoner son, Peter (Alex Wolff), only to stop and then show Steve walk into the room to awaken Peter so that they can attend the funeral for the boy’s grandmother[2]. The boundary between reality and representation has been completely transgressed, as the house and the model of it suddenly blur into one, very much along the lines of that moment in The Shining when the hedge maze and its model merge[3].

This clever visual trick is more than just as example of postmodern play with images, though it is that. For one thing, it suggests that the Grahams, like the dolls in Annie’s models, are powerless pawns being manipulated by others. Collapsing the distinctive between the house and the model also sends the film momentarily reeling into the realm of the “uncanny valley,” a term that has been used to describe the sense of uneasiness felt by human observers when representations (especially of human beings) approach the point of being indistinguishable from the originals. And “uncanny” is the right word here. As popularized by Sigmund Freud, the uncanny is a psychological reaction that humans experience when something seems eerily familiar, even though it really shouldn’t be familiar at all. It thus triggers contradictory impulses that can be quite unsettling.

The concept of the uncanny often applies to horror film, of course, but the special applicability of this concept to Hereditary becomes clear if we realize that the word “uncanny” is an English translation of the German word Freud actually used, which is unheimlich, that is, something that is the opposite of heimlich. But heimlich itself already has two different meanings that seem, at first glance, to be the opposite of each other. On the one hand, it means something that is secret or hidden. If something is unheimlich, then, it is something that should have remained hidden or private, but has been revealed—thus the source of some of the discomfort associated with this concept. But heimlich also means something that is comfortable or familiar—like one’s own home, so that unheimlich also suggests something that is strange or unsettling (un-homelike). That the word Heim also has connotations of “home” (as when Heimat means one’s homeland, or natural habitat) also makes unheimlich the perfect description of the Graham home: a place where they should be comfortable and at ease, but where they definitely are not—but also a place where they should enjoy privacy but do not. After all, we are watching their most private interactions as we watch the film, looking in on their home as one might look into the interior of that model.

After awakening Peter, Steve also has to awaken his thirteen-year-old daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro), but in order to do so, he has to track her down out in the treehouse, where she has spent the night, despite the fact that it was quite cold out, something that Steve complains about with the cliché parental warning that this is a good way to catch pneumonia. But sleeping in the treehouse on a cold night, we will soon realize, is the least of Charlie’s eccentricities. She’s a truly strange child: she looks odd, she behaves weirdly, she has strange preoccupations with things like dead animals, and she has a collection of extremely unusual dolls, apparently built by herself out of odds and ends—a bit like Estonian kratts. Later, when we see her in school, she seems distracted, almost unaware of her surroundings. After a bird ominously crashes into the classroom window and is killed, she goes outside later, munching a candy bar, to check out the bird’s body. Then she cuts off its head with a pair of scissors and pops the head into her pocket. It turns out that this decapitation is a moment of clear foreshadowing, though we don’t know that yet. The moment is given significance, though, by the tense music that plays and by the fact that a strange woman is seen witnessing the event from outside the schoolyard.

When the family arrives at the funeral, we finally meet Annie, who delivers a very awkward eulogy for her mother, noting that Ellen had been such a private and secretive person that it feels inappropriate to talk about her in front of people—especially the people at the funeral, most of whom Annie doesn’t even know. Once again, then, we are drifting into the uncanny, into the revelation of something that should have remained hidden. The eulogy, which one would expect to be a tribute to the departed, sounds almost more like a complaint about her mother’s stubborn and domineering nature. Meanwhile, Charlie clicks her tongue (a frequent habit of hers) and draws a picture of her own mother in her sketchbook. After the eulogy, Charlie munches on another chocolate bar, causing both her parents to make sure it doesn’t have nuts in it, because of Charlie’s nut allergy, which will become crucial to the plot later on.

The Grahams, we will gradually realize, have lots of problems, though it is not clear, in the beginning, that the family is seriously dysfunctional. They are a bit remote from each other, though: no one seems very saddened by the loss of the grandmother, for example, and everyone interacts with everyone else in a rather polite, but slightly cold, way. Something doesn’t seem quite right about the family, as we perhaps begin to realize after that odd funeral service and after Annie subsequently discovers a cryptic note left for her by her mother inside the cover of a book entitled Notes on Spiritualism. The note simply assures Annie that all of their sacrifices will be worth it in the end, when they will be far outweighed by the rewards. Annie seems to have no idea what this is supposed to mean, though she is clearly unnerved by it. Apparently, there are things going on with the family that even the family itself doesn’t understand. Meanwhile, the nature of the book within which the note is left serves as the first clue that something supernatural might be afoot.

Communication between the members of the Graham family is minimal. Conversations between Annie and either of her children seem extremely awkward. When Steve receives a call notifying him that Ellen’s grave has been “desecrated” (we later learn that the body has been dug up and removed), he decides not to tell Annie. Soon afterward, Annie tells Steve she is going to see a movie but goes instead to attend a group grief counseling session for those who have recently lost loved ones. In the group, she relates the recent loss of her mother and reveals that they had been “estranged” at the end, partly because her mother had “D.I.D. and dementia.”[4] Annie also reveals that her father died when she was a baby, starving himself to death due to “psychotic depression.” We also learn that Annie’s older brother had schizophrenia, which apparently drove him to hang himself in Ellen’s bedroom when he was 16. His suicide note accused Ellen of “putting people inside him,” which will again turn out to be an important clue. Annie also reveals that she had been “forced” to attend similar counseling sessions a couple of years earlier and that they had helped, though we do not learn what loss she had suffered at that time.

The Graham house itself seems relatively new and modern—though the outside seems oddly newer than the inside. The large, spacious interior of the house nevertheless seems oddly claustrophobic; it also seems cold and unhomelike (unheimlich), even though it is decorated in an effortless, informal style that should make it a very warm and friendly place. Yet this house has a vaguely institutional feel, more like a rustic inn than a family home. Finally, the house is located in a wooded setting, with no other houses in sight (except for that treehouse), yet it doesn’t really seem remote in the way associated with horror films of the “cabin-in-the-woods” type.

The Graham home, we eventually realize, is far from the typical haunted house, yet Aster works very hard to provide us with clues that this house and the family that lives in it are definitely haunted. Immediately after reading that note, Annie thinks that she fleetingly sees her mother’s ghost, though it might simply be her imagination, activated by the note. Creeped out, Annie quickly turns one of her models to get it out of sight. The camera closes in on the model, which shows Annie in bed holding baby Charlie to her breast; Ellen stands by the bed, looking on. Weirdly, though, the older woman has one of her breasts out, as if to join in on the breastfeeding of the child. There are clearly some strange, Freudian aspects to Annie’s relationship with her mother. The supernatural and the psychological are thus deftly intermixed here in just a few seconds of runtime, and this mixture will run throughout the film.

Annie’s miniature, suggesting the intrusive role of Ellen in the parenting of Charlie.

For his part, Peter spends his time in class checking out the ass of Bridget (Mallory Bechtel), the pretty girl who sits in front of him. Between classes, he manages to find time to smoke weed with his friend Brendan (Jake Brown), just to make the day more bearable. Peter is not quite the ideal teen, it would seem, but he does seem more normal and better adjusted (if less interesting and creative) than Charlie (who, among other things, has spent much more time with the apparently problematic Ellen). In keeping with the general family dynamic, Peter and Charlie are hardly close, though he does agree (at Annie’s insistence, though Charlie doesn’t want to go) to take his sister with him when he goes to a party (though, of course, he lies to his mother and tells her he is going to a “school barbecue thing”).

While Peter is busy smoking weed with Bridget at the party, Charlie eats some cake with nuts in it, then has a violent allergic reaction. Peter frantically drives her to the hospital. On the way, she sticks her head out the window to get air—and is promptly decapitated when Peter swerves to miss a dead deer lying in the middle of the road and her head hits a utility pole. The decapitation of that bird now seems prophetic, indeed, though it is probably not until the shocking events of the film’s last moments that most viewers will wonder if somehow Charlie’s decapitation had been orchestrated by black magic—which is hinted at by the strange woman watching her decapitate the bird, by the appearance of that deer in the road, and by the fact that, shortly before going to the party, Charlie observes a fire burning near her house, surrounding some sort of effigy figure[5]. But the best evidence of this orchestration is probably that, as Charlie and Peter drive to the party, they pass that same utility pole; a close look shows that the pole has been inscribed with the symbol that hangs from necklaces worn by both Ellen and Annie and that serves as a sort of insignia for the occult group of which Ellen had been a member.

Close-up of the utility pole that will soon decapitate Charlie, showing an occult insignia that has been inscribed on it.

Peter drives home in shock. The fact that he simply goes to his room without speaking to his parents says a lot about the nature of communication in this family. Meanwhile, the odd point-of-view tracking shot that follows him through the house and into his room suggests that he is being shadowed by some sort of entity that is inhabiting the house. The occult-oriented words that start to be inscribed in the wallpaper of the house (and that Annie faithfully reproduces in her model of the house) make a similar point. Annie discovers Charlie’s headless body in Peter’s car, then (as we still hear Annie’s screams and sobs in the background) we are treated to a truly gruesome horror-film visual when the screen is filled with a shot of Charlie’s severed head, now covered by crawling ants—who may or may not themselves be driven by supernatural forces. It is a visual that might, with just a tweak in tone, have been at home in Evil Dead II or other over-the-top gross-out films, but here it seems grimly realistic and abjectly on target. From this point forward, things spiral more and more out of control for the remaining Grahams. Annie and Peter, in particular, display odd behavior. Annie begins to sleep in the treehouse, apparently as a sort of tribute to Charlie; similarly, Peter has an attack at school that resembles the symptoms suffered by Charlie when she ate those nuts at the party. He thinks he hears Charlie’s trademark tongue clicks in his room at night. Steve (the only one without Ellen’s blood in his veins) might be the only sane Graham, but he is also completely at a loss when it comes to findings strategies for holding this failing family together.

Charlie’s sever3ed head, shortly after the accident.

Steve’s reaction when he discovers Annie making a miniature of the accident scene, complete with a tiny model of Charlie’s head lying on the ground near a trail of blood, is typical. It is clear that she uses her miniatures to work out her issues. It is also clear that the strategy might not be a healthy one. But Steve is completely unable to get this point across to her, and he eventually sinks into frustration and anger when she resists his efforts. When she also resists his invitation to dinner, he simply says “Come. Stay. Do what you want. I don’t really give a shit.” If he is a psychiatrist, he doesn’t seem to be a very good one. In any event, Annie does come to dinner, only to get into a fight with Peter, violently yelling at the boy, whom she clearly blames for Charlie’s death. Then, just when she is being about the worst possible mother to Peter, she declares herself the suffering sacrificial victim. “All I do is worry and slave and defend you,” she screams at her son. “And all I get back is that fucking face on your face.” (Later she will admit to Peter, within a dream, that she never wanted to have him, but Ellen pressured her into it.) After Annie stomps away from the table, Steve and Peter sit there, not speaking.

Annie is a woman with serious problems, which is no surprise give recent events and her family history. Charlie’s death eventually drives her back to grief counseling, where this time she runs into a surprisingly friendly woman named Joan (Ann Dowd), in an encounter that will be crucial to the rest of the plot. Unhinged by grief, Annie becomes obsessed with the notion of communicating with her dead mother. Joan, as it turns out, is herself interested in the occult and more than willing to help—especially as, we will eventually learn, she is a member of the cult in which Ellen had once been a leading participant. As Annie gets pulled into the orbit of the cult, it becomes more and more clear that something supernatural is going on, but it also becomes more and more clear with each revelation that Annie once, while apparently sleepwalking, nearly set herself and her children on fire while the latter slept in their beds.

More and more weird manifestations continue to occur in the Graham home, though some of them seem to be merely in Annie’s head. Indeed, dreams within dreams and visions within visions significantly blur the boundary between fantasy and reality in the second half of the film, creating an unsettling effect. After a while, any strange scene that occurs (such as the fiery death of Steve) seems likely to turn out to be a dream or a hallucination on the part of Annie, who seems increasingly unhinged. By the time she awakens both Peter and Steve in the middle of the night so that they can conduct a family séance, it comes as no surprise that they think she’s crazy. It is also no surprise that the whole thing turns into another family disaster.

In classic horror film fashion, the creepy manifestations in the Graham home come to be focused more and more in their large attic. Meanwhile, Peter begins to experience strange sightings and other sensations as well. Indeed, it soon becomes apparent that Joan is involved in some sort of strange occult practices that seem to be focused on Peter. As we move toward the climactic final half-hour of the film, Annie discovers evidence that her mother had been involved in practices designed to seek a human (preferably male) host to be possessed by one “King Paimon”—one of the eight kings of hell, we learn later, as well as the pagan god of mischief—and that Ellen and Joan had in fact been associates in this project, though Joan has never mentioned knowing Ellen.

From this point forward, Hereditary is a virtual cascade of classic supernatural horror moments. When Annie finally decides to check out the attic in the Graham home, the first thing she discovers is that it is infested with flies—which we know (from The Amityville Horror and elsewhere) is probably not a good sign. Going on up, she discovers a headless and decomposing female body (Ellen’s?), wearing a white gown inscribed with the occult insignia we have already encountered several times in the film. A burning candle at the feet of the corpse suggests that someone else has been up there fairly recently. Annie then sees the insignia drawn (in blood, of course) on the attic ceiling as well. It’s almost a surprise when Steve goes into the attic and verifies that the body is there, and at this point it seems clear that the occult events that have been presaged throughout the film are now fully underway.

In rapid order, Steve goes up in flames when Annie attempts to burn Charlie’s sketchbook—in which drawings of Peter have continued to appear, long after Charlie’s death. Then Annie seems finally to go completely off the deep end, apparently possessed. Peter, the only one left to sort out things, sits confused on his bed as a figure (Annie?) spider-walks across the wall behind him. When Peter discovers his father’s charred body, it’s about the least traumatic thing that happens in the film’s final fifteen minutes. The boy is then attacked by the possessed Annie, who chases him into the attic. He looks himself in while she violently beats her head against the pull-down door to the attic. When he calls her “mommy” and begs her to stop, it’s completely out of character, a marker of the extremity of the situation.

She finally does stop banging her head on the door, but that attic is hardly a safe sanctuary. Ellen’s body is gone, at least, replaced by a burnt outline on the floor, Among other things, though, Peter finds a photo of himself with the eyes gouged out. Then he looks up to see his mother, impossibly hanging in the air over his head, jerkily sawing off her own head with piano wire. When he realizes that naked members of the cult are standing in the attic looking on, he leaps through the window. As he is shown lying on the ground below, the sawing noises stop, and we hear a thud—presumably Annie’s head hitting the floor. A mysterious floating, glimmering light (seen several times before in the film) moves toward Peter and appears to enter his body. He then awakens to see a woman floating upwards into the treehouse, where a fire appears to be burning inside.

Peter stands up, clicks his tongue, and walks slowly toward the treehouse. In the background, we see the body of the Graham family dog lying on the ground. Dogs typically fare poorly in horror films. More naked cult members are seen standing in the woods around the house, as peaceful music plays. When he climbs into the treehouse, he finds it filled with bowing cult members, including his newly headless mother and his rotting headless grandmother.  A picture of his grandmother, labeled “Queen Leigh,” hangs on the wall. He sees a weird mannequin, somewhat in the style of the dolls that Charlie used to make, wearing a crown and with metallic representations of rays of light emanating from its head, which is Charlie’s head. It’s a sort of obscene parody of Christ, constituting the temporary home of Paimon. The permanent home, of course, will be Peter. June removes the crown from Charlie’s head and places it on Peter, calling him “Charlie” and welcoming him as the new host for Paimon, who will now presumably to resurrected and empowered to perform all sorts of mischief, while sweeping the cult into power over humanity. The last shot shows one of Annie’s miniatures, reproducing the scene of Paimon’s crowning in the treehouse. Cut to the final credit, as Judy Collins’ “Both Sides Now” ironically plays.

Hereditary, read literally, is a very effective and genuinely chilling supernatural thriller. But then this is surely not a film that is intended simply to be read literally. For one thing, the family drama elements of the film point toward an allegorical interpretation that makes this film a commentary on family dynamics in general—and on the way in which we all (though some surely more than others) come into the world with the hopes and expectations of our families already shaping our futures, perhaps opening up certain opportunities, but also foreclosing others.

David Sims, writing in The Atlantic, has emphasized the family drama of the film, beginning his discussion of it by asking, “What more indefatigable enemy is there than the family tree, the idea that one’s worst nightmares have been inherited and are doomed to recur from generation to generation?” Sims goes on to outline the ways in which the horrors of Hereditary are centrally driven by the notion that we are all doomed from birth to be “our parents’ children,” by the idea—so contrary to our cherished Western notions of individualism and free will—that certain paths ore open to us and certain paths are closed to us, simply by the accident of being born into particular families.

All of this family drama, among other things, seems to suggest psychoanalytic interpretations. The film is, after all, a probing study of a number of basic psychological experiences, including (perhaps most obviously) the experience of grief and loss. I would suggest, however, that the portrayal of Steve in the film can be taken as a disavowal of such interpretations. The fact that Steve, despite being a psychiatrist, or psychologist, or something of the sort, is so unable to help his family cope with what confronts them seems to me to suggest the ultimate pointlessness of such psychoanalytic interpretations, which tend to generalize the particularities of family experience into universal narratives. If Hereditary shows us anything, it shows us that some families are different from others, even if it avoids the glib cleverness of something like Tolstoy’s famous declaration, at the beginning of his 1878 novel Anna Karenina,that “happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” There are forces here that go beyond the individual and structures of power that go beyond the family.

There is no need for psychoanalytic theory to see that Hereditary deals centrally with mental illness and the failure to deal appropriately with it. Thus, Lena Wilson touches on an important focus of the film when she concludes that the failure of the Grahams to deal with their family legacy of mental illness delivers a central message that has to do with our inability as a society to deal with negative emotions, suicide, and mental illness in general:

“When we cultivate societies, families, and institutions that encourage the suppression of messy emotions, our lives become terrifying even before any gory visions and demonic possessions enter into them. In the end, despite all its spooky marketing, Hereditary is a fable about generational silence in the face of mental illness, where the moral of the story is so dark and visceral that audiences feel compelled to look away.”

Meanwhile, Steve is not just a mental health professional; he is also male, which might be one reason he is so ineffectual. He and Peter, the male characters, are clearly the ones who have the least energy and the least creative power. The main female characters Annie and Charlie, on the other hand are both artists. Then again, Ellen seems to be the main source of evil in the family, and the male Paimon is the main bearer of power in the film, so it is not entirely clear just how feminist the message of this film really is. On the other hand, when we realize that all of the bad things in the film really revolve around Paimon, then the film possibly becomes a comment on patriarchal structures in general and on the way in which they undermine even the strongest and most creative of women.

This focus on patriarchy brings us back to the notion of family, but the idea that the past has a strong impact on the present and future is hardly limited to the family, and Hereditary is, accordingly, a film that generates meaning on multiple levels. Perhaps the dirtiest (and most horrifying) of all secrets within Western society is that we do not all have equal opportunities—that class, gender, and race shape our possibilities at every turn and that those who succeed do so largely through luck (especially the luck of their origins), while those who transcend the boundaries of what is allotted to them by the accident of birth are mere statistical anomalies that serve largely to help disguise the fact that such anomalies are genuine aberrations, while helping to assure the obedience of the vast majority, who will never surmount the obstacles placed before them because of economic status of their parents, the nature of their sexual orientation, or the color of their skin.

One level farther up the allegorical scale from its commentary on family, Hereditary is a comment on the ways in which all of our lives are shaped by the past, by conventions and practices that we have inherited and which we have had no opportunity to help shape. As in The Shining, Marx’s declaration (in The Eighteenth Brumaire) that “the tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living” seems particularly apt here (Tucker 595). In this case, it is particularly clear how the past often places shackles on the present and the future, plotting out a course that is subsequently followed, seemingly without any chance of alteration. The film, as emphasized by its title, clearly suggests that the movement, under capitalism, away from the hereditary dictatorships of the past, is hardly complete. Now, however, the past works its power over the present in much more subtle and nefarious ways, though Hereditary seems less optimistic than Marx that these ways can still be overcome.

That the family, in Heredity, thus becomes a microcosm of society as a whole is, though, in keeping with the broader sweep of Marxist critique of the bourgeois family structure. This critique sees the nuclear family unit as an important locus for the propagation and naturalization of bourgeois ideology and one of the key means by which bourgeois society ensures that its members will follow its dictates without question, thinking of bourgeois ideology as simply an accurate description of the way the world works rather than as a specific political philosophy designed to further the agendas of the privileged and the powerful. In this way, bourgeois ideology will not be questioned, despite the fact that its sole purpose is to support a capitalist system that works to the advantage of the few by exploiting and manipulating the many.

It’s a terrible thing to realize that one’s family is the locus of an occult plot and that you are merely a pawn in the plans of an evil cult that hopes to take over the world with the help of a powerful demon. Luckily, though, that never happens. Thus, the real horror of Hereditary is not in its supernatural trappings, but in its fundamental underpinnings. The experience of being inexorably pushed in certain directions by one’s family is very common; the experience, under capitalism, of being manipulated by bourgeois ideology to do the bidding of a capitalist system that does not care about you or work to your advantage is near universal. By casting its allegory about the lack of freedom in a world that supposedly values freedom above all else in terms of a gruesome horror story, filled with decapitations, re-animated corpses, and resurrected demons, Hereditary manages to evoke the horrors of the modern social world in a powerful and visceral way that reminds us of why Marx so often employed images from horror (vampires, ghosts, nightmares, corpses) to describe capitalism in his own work.

WORKS CITED

Sims, David. “The Close-to-Home Horror of Heredity.” The Atlantic (June 7, 2018). https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2018/06/hereditary-review/562277/. Accessed March 23, 2019.

Tucker, Robert C., ed.  The Marx-Engels Reader. 2nd Ed. New York: Norton, 1978.

Wilson, Lena. “Bad Blood: Hereditary Finds the Horror in Denial and Repression.” Bitchmedia (June 20, 2018). https://www.bitchmedia.org/article/hereditary-deals-with-mental-illness. Accessed March 23, 2019.

NOTES


[1] We do see in one scene that Steve’s e-mail address is “drstevengraham@united psychiatry.org,” which is the best evidence we have that he is a psychiatrist. He could, however, be a psychologist or some other form of doctor employed by United Psychiatry. In any case, we never see him actually practicing psychiatry. Mostly, he seems to sit in his office, distracted, drinking whisky. Of course, many might remember Gabriel Byrne from his role as a psychiatrist in the HBO series In Treatment (2008-2010).

[2] Interestingly, Wolff had also played the son of Byrne’s character in In Treatment

[3] It is no accident that the model resembles the house so closely. The interior shots of the house were all shot on sets on a soundstage that were specifically designed to match the model. So, in reality, the house is a copy of the model, rather than the other way around.

[4] D.I.D. stands for “dissociative identity disorder,” formerly known as “multiple personality disorder.”

[5] This moment at least suggests that the cult of which Ellen had been a member is already actively working to bring about the film’s conclusion—though this particular motif seems to be more related to the later burning death of Steve than to the decapitation of Charlie.