It’s been a while since I’ve written up one of these “Scared the Hell Out Of Me” articles. But as you can imagine, it has been quite a while since a movie has scared the hell out of me, but that all changed earlier this year when I finally got the chance to sit down and check out writer-director Ari Aster’s supernatural family horror flick Hereditary starring Toni Collette and Gabriel Bryne.
I guess I don’t even need to bother to put this out there, but all the same – for the sake of argument – this article contains MASSIVE SPOILERS. In fact, let’s just go ahead and say that this article includes ULTIMATE SPOILERS for the film. If you haven’t had the chance to see it yet, turn back now.
Here there be spoilers.
That out of the way, now let’s get into why Ari Aster’s feature directing debut was so damn scary that I’m still thinking about it months later. First and foremost, let’s just get this out of the way and talk about “that scene.” This piece will touch on other aspects of the film, but mostly I want to talk about “that scene.” Yes, that one scene as our very own Josh Millican writes about forebodingly in his epic Dread Central review for the film:
“There’s a scene in the first act that I predict will send even hardened horror fans fleeing. It’s a soul-crushing, trauma-inducing scenario with visceral imagery to match, an emotional and visual assault that hits like a sucker punch with PTSD-triggering potential. Those who can endure the ride to its conclusion will simply be able to refer to “that scene” for immediate recall.”
So yeah, we’re going to talk about THAT scene.
For those who haven’t seen the movie (and are still reading this for some reason) or for those of you out there that fittingly blocked the scene out for your fragile minds, it goes a little something like this: Early in the movie it’s mentioned that the youngest member of the Graham family Charlie, played in a star-making performance by Milly Shapiro, has a peanut allergy. It’s mentioned casually once and then the movie keeps on trucking.
Then there is a scene later in the film where the older brother, played by Alex Wolff, wants to go to a party and mommy-Colette tells him he can – if he brings his little sister along. Wolff finally agrees and off the two siblings go to a raging high school party. It’s there that Wolff leaves his little sister alone to go smoke weed. He tells her to have some cake (which by the way, party-cake was never served at any of my high school parties) and it isn’t long before we slowly start to realize with growing horror that this high school party-cake must have had nuts in it.
As a man who has been scolded for accidentally bringing a peanut-butter flavored Cliff bar into a preschool (I know, I know, I’m an idiot sometimes) this scene already had me sitting on the edge of my seat. It didn’t help that I brought my girlfriend along with me. And my girlfriend and I have two little kids, who, as you might imagine, we try our best to keep alive and breathing each day. And as the growing horror of what was about to happen to little Charlie dawned on me, I realized I may have made a grave mistake bringing her to see this movie (true story) on our anniversary. Now I realized that if THIS is where the movie is heading, I’m not sure she’s prepared to take such a trip.
But then I remember that this Charlie girl is one of the main – if not THE main character in this movie (right?) and so I start to calm down, knowing that this isn’t going to go well, but the girl will live through it so she can continue to be creepy for another 90 mins at least. All is back to good. But then, as we cut to Wolff tearing ass down the back highways of middle-of-nowhere America, with Charlie having a full-on allergic reaction that’s closing her throat, a feeling of dawning horror crept back across my brain: Wait, haven’t I seen all the Charlie-moments from the trailer and TV spots already?
I frantically searched my brain as Wolff frantically speed down the highway. I’ve seen tons of trailer and TV spots for this film working for Dread Central… and every moment that contains the creepy little girl… Oh, my God. They’ve ALL already happened! Oh, no! Someone do something– too late. Upon the screen, Charlie rolls down the window to try and get some air into her closing lungs. Just as big brother Wolff sees a dead something in the road. He swerves to miss the dead animal and almost hits a thick-ass sturdy-as-fuck light post! Thank God, big brother avoids the light post. Charlie’s head, however, doesn’t.
Wolff can’t bring himself to look into the back seat, and we as an audience can’t bring ourselves to breathe. I try to look over at my girlfriend, but can’t take my eyes off the screen. Instead, I use my finely tuned peripherals and spy on her reaction. As I pretty much expected, she’s now sitting with her hands over her face. I’ve never seen this girl FLINCH at a horror movie – ever. And now she is sitting there with her hands frozen over her face. The poor girl. What did I make her endure?
Turns out, she just endured one of the most harrowing scenes of horror ever put upon the silver screen. Part of me wanted to chastise the scene afterward for being shock value. After all, you kill a kid out of nowhere so brutally in a movie, and you’re going to get a reaction. Not cool. But then the film continued and presented one of the most terrifying portrayals of pure, genuine shock I’ve seen in a movie. Wolff can’t look in the back seat. He can’t even bring himself to finish the sentence “Charlie are you okay?” He knows she isn’t. But he’s too scared to confirm it. So instead… he just keeps driving.
What the FUCK?!?!?!
Yes, Wolff drives home with his little sister’s decapitated body in the back seat, parks the car in the family driveway, and then walks inside and lies down for bed. He then lays there staring off into horrified space until morning when – Oh, God, no. Yes, he lays there until morning where we ONLY hear momma Collette bid farewell to Papa Bryne downstairs, kiss him goodbye, and walks out to her car… This scene was the most prolonged bouts of pure silence I have ever heard in a movie… And then Collette earns herself another Oscar nomination with her reaction of gut-punch horror.
I’m truthfully getting super uncomfortable even talking/thinking about Collette’s reaction to finding her daughter’s dead body (offscreen). I was thinking of turning away from the screen. And I wish I would have as Aster then follows this moment of real pure horror up by slapping upon the screen a blistering bright, middle of the goddamn day close-up of little Charlie’s severed head, still lying on the side of the road where her older brother and protector left it the night before. Where he left it to be consumed by an army of ants.
The image of Charlie’s severed head lying on the dirt of the road, still screaming in horror and/or gasping for breath, is one of the most horrific images ever put on the screen – in a horror movie or otherwise. Sure there are other scary parts in the film – such as Colette hiding up in the corner of Wolff’s room, or Colette sawing her head off – but still, nothing else in the scary-as-fuck movie can match the power of pure horror that this painfully extended sequence conjures. It’s one for the ages and one that – along with the crucifix scene from The Exorcist and Quint’s death from Jaws – will be etched in horror fans heads for the rest of time.
Hereditary is now available on Blu-ray!