Warning: this article contains MASSIVE spoilers for Ari Aster's Hereditary! You've been warned!
The horror genre is in high gear right now, and nothing epitomizes that quite like Hereditary. Ari Aster's shocking horror film takes some seriously dark turns, offering up some truly amazing dramatic moments for actors like The Sixth Sense's Toni Collette, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle's Alex Wolff, and The Handmaid's Tale's Ann Dowd. More than that, however, the film also features a gut-punch ending that arguably elevates it beyond even the lofty comparisons to The Exorcist that have popped up in recent days. That's right, folks; it's that intense.
With that in mind (and now that we have managed to calm our heart rates down following the film's debut) we have dissected Hereditary's ending in an attempt to make sense of what we just saw. There are a number of major points to get to here, so let's get started with what actually happens at the end of the film.
What Happens At The End Of The Film?
The beginning of the end of the Graham family comes when Steve (Gabriel Byrne) brings Peter (Alex Wolff) home after Joan (Ann Dowd) puts a bizarre hex on the teenager, and a demonic force attacks him in his classroom. Peter goes to bed, while Annie (Toni Collette) begs Steve to burn Charlie's sketchbook in the fireplace -- an act she believes (but still accepts) will cause her to burn as well. Steve ultimately refuses to play Annie's game, thinking her to be responsible for everything that has happened in recent days, so Annie throws the book into the flames herself. In shock, Steve is the one who combusts, and Annie's shocked face quickly turns calm as the mysterious light seen in previous scenes in the film overtakes her.
Day quickly changes to night, and we can see an army of mysterious figures standing outside of the Graham house. Peter awakens from his room and goes looking for his parents, completely unaware that his mother is stalking him from the ceiling. He goes downstairs to find his father's charred corpse by the fireplace and then looks into the corner to see a naked man smiling at him from the shadows. At that moment, Annie attacks Peter and chases him up into the attic; though he closes the door behind him, Annie manages to cling onto the ceiling and repeatedly slam her head into the door like a jackhammer.
Once in the attic, Peter finds evidence of a satanic ritual, including a photo with his eyes punched out of it. His grandmother's body is gone, but above him, he sees that his mother has somehow made it into the attic, and she saws her own head off with razor wire while making eye contact with him. Peter is then attacked by a group of naked worshippers who were hiding in the shadows, and he jumps out of the window and lands in the lawn below.
The fall seemingly kills Peter, and his black soul leaves his body. Then the bright glow seen earlier in the film enters his body, and he reawakens, clearly changed by the ordeal. Peter lets out the same clicking sound that Charlie made throughout the movie, and then follows the hovering, headless body of his mother as it flies into Charlie's treehouse.
Inside the treehouse, a group of naked cultists greets Peter. Joan refers to him as "Charlie," and places a crown on his head as the cult prays to a statue of Paimon with Charlie's severed head set at the top. Everyone seems to treat Peter with reverence, as they hail the impending arrival of Paimon, and the movie ends.
Who Were Those People In The House?
Now that we have processed what happens to the Graham family Hereditary, we also need to figure out who those people were in the house at the end of the film. Based on all of the clues provided by the movie, it's relatively easy to see that Annie's mother was a member of a satanic cult and that Joan was a member, as well. That much is easy to see on the first viewing, but the nuances are where things get even more complicated.
Throughout the Hereditary narrative, we're given clues to suggest that Annie's mother was involved in something that she never fully revealed to her family. Annie notes explicitly the "secret friends" that populated her mother's life, and her funeral offers up the first glimpse at several of the individuals who show up and watch Peter run from his possessed mother in Hereditary's climax. They've been together for decades, and the mementos discovered by Annie as she rummages through her mother's belongings reveal that this evil organization has been plotting something (including the robbery of the grave) without her knowledge for a very long time.
In fact, the ever-present symbol of Paimon that shows up throughout Hereditary implies that the cult may actually be directly responsible for some of the movie's most terrifying moments. Paimon's emblem appears near the location of Charlie's death, with a possible interpretation of that placement telling us that the cult organized Charlie's decapitation, and the accident that killed the Graham daughter was actually part of an elaborate plan to prepare her for Paimon's arrival.
That explains why Joan showed up out of the blue to provide Annie with a shoulder to cry on when Charlie died. Acting as a sleeper agent, Joan's job was to act as the public face of the cult and get closer to Annie in order to surreptitiously plant the seeds of the séance in her mind -- a move that leads Annie to conduct her own ritual, which in turn brings Charlie's spirit into the house and sets the film's truly supernatural elements in motion.
The film also potentially implies that the cult has been trying to summon Paimon for far longer than the duration of the central storyline. Earlier in the movie, Annie reveals to her grief counseling group that her brother committed suicide during her childhood and that the death created a wedge between Annie and her mother. Given what happens to Peter when he jumps out the window at the end of the movie, it's not entirely unreasonable to assume that the cult may have tried the exact same ritual years earlier on Annie's brother and that his suicide may have resulted either as a means of protecting himself from Paimon's possession, or as a failed attempt to bring the demon into his body.
Of course, parsing out the logistics of the cult is one thing. It still doesn't explain the importance of Charlie, where she went, or what happened to her in the film's final moments.
What Happened To Charlie?
Well... The short answer is that Charlie was killed. If you watched Hereditary, then there's really no way to get around that fact. That said, things get a bit more interesting and complicated when we unpack what happened to Charlie after her death.
As far as we can tell from the evidence provided by the film, Charlie's initial return to the Graham family comes after Joan convinces Annie to go through with the séance. The disturbed child briefly takes control of her mother's body, and she becomes a much more noticeable presence in Peter's grief -- even appearing in the corner of his room and making the clicking sound while he tries to sleep. The séance brings her soul into our world, and the death of Peter (coupled with the ritual that takes place in the attic) allows Charlie to inhabit a male body.
That's an important element to note, as Charlie's status as a girl is a much-talked-about aspect of the story. At numerous points throughout Hereditary, it's noted that Annie's mother wished that Charlie had been a boy. Though this initially seems like petty family squabbling, the truth is that she wanted Charlie to be a boy because Paimon needed a male body to complete the ritual. Based on how much time Charlie spent with her grandmother in the earlier years of her life, it's clear that the cult did some major prep work to prepare the girl for the ritual and her eventual indoctrination into the satanic organization. Charlie's death and move to Peter's body was always supposed to happen (because a man from Annie's bloodline was necessary to complete the process), and the film merely shows us the tail end of a plan that had been in place for years.
The final question that this raises is where we're supposed to draw the line between Charlie and Paimon. On the one hand, the film makes a case that Charlie's soul is the perfect host for the arrival of Paimon, which requires the need to move her into Peter's body so that she can fuse with the demonic entity. Annie's mother had groomed Charlie for this moment for years, and the final scene shows the young girl getting ready to become the vessel that she was always destined to become.
On the other hand, there's also another interpretation that could suggest that Charlie was the living incarnation of Paimon from the very beginning. Through this interpretation, we could assume that Charlie (whether knowingly or unknowingly) was always destined to take on her role as the symbol of worship for the cult, and she was just too weak in her original female body to act on her powers. Given the fact that Charlie's head is actually placed on top of the Paimon statue at the end of Hereditary's story, this reading would also make quite a bit of sense.
Either way you look at it, the film ends with the fusion of Charlie and Paimon through Peter's body as the credits start to roll. We don't know what the future holds for the world now that the dark lord has a human body, but it can't bode well for any of us.
Of course, that's our take, but what do you think of Hereditary's ending? Now that Hereditary is in theaters, let us know what you thought of the film's conclusion in the comments section, below, and check out our full review to read our take on everything else associated with Ari Aster's terrifying feature debut!