Ari Aster Had A Practical Reason For Putting Paimon In Hereditary

With his 2018 film "Hereditary," Ari Aster crafted a deeply unsettling movie about a child's death, the dissolution of a family, and the earthly rise of a demon named Paimon. The movie's careful threading of supernatural horror with everyday horror is just one reason why it quickly became one of the best horror movies of all time. "Hereditary" skeptics might quibble with that ranking, but there's no denying the powerful, haunting tone the movie summons, especially in its final moments.

Those final moments largely concern King Paimon. Paimon, a demon from Hell who has long waited for the chance to arrive on Earth, spends most of "Hereditary" in the shadows. Writer-director Ari Aster largely relegates Paimon to the movie's final act, all the while developing a complex and mysterious web of traumatic backstory that only clicks into place once you know the movie's supernatural scope. And because of the demon's obscurity, references to Paimon before he takes over the drama barely register.

The central story of "Hereditary" could have involved any devil, so Aster's use of Paimon marks the movie as unique. As he told Vulture, there was a practical reason for it. He just "didn't want to do the Devil again."

Because of his refusal to write Satan into "Hereditary," Aster was able to find a new angle on the devil-cult possession story. It gives the movie a specific feeling of doom while still allowing it to pay homage to Aster's influences.

The Devil and Rosemary

Ari Aster had good reason to find an unconventional sort of demon for "Hereditary." The Devil, painted for centuries as the source of all earthly evil, has little novelty anymore. He is a figure common to cinematic history, whether in comedic appearances like "Little Nicky" and "Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny," or as a terrifying evil goo in John Carpenter's "Prince of Darkness."

Perhaps the most controversial portrayal of the Devil, however, is the 1967 film, "Rosemary's Baby," which is also one of the key inspirations for "Hereditary." As in "Hereditary," the threat of the occult in "Rosemary's Baby" emerges slowly. In both movies, dread arrives at the pace of life, with supernatural elements gradually overtaking the plausible. They both also feature cults trying to find a vessel for their evil deity of choice: Satan in "Rosemary's Baby," Paimon in "Hereditary."

Based on a novel by Ira Levin, "Rosemary's Baby" concerns a young couple in New York — Guy (John Cassavetes) and Rosemary (Mia Farrow) — moving into an apartment building with a history of witchcraft. Guy quickly befriends an elderly couple, the neighborly Castevets (Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer). Rosemary distrusts them, however, and for good reason.

She's soon sexually assaulted by Satan in a nightmarish sequence that Guy tries to convince her was just a nightmare. Rosemary's distrust grows into full-blown paranoia as she becomes pregnant, convinced that the Castevets and her husband have supernatural designs on her baby. When she finally deducts that her neighbors are Satanists, the horrific chain of events unleashed by the initial act continues unabated.

Horror in miniature

The horror of "Rosemary's Baby" comes from the presence of the Devil and its consequent evil, but it's just as much about the loss of agency suffered by its protagonist. The cultists' designs on her are intricate, meant to keep her strapped to the course they've plotted. To use that as a basis for another horror movie, especially one as psychologically rich as "Hereditary," was a shrewd move from Ari Aster. As was changing the central demon.

Rather than focus on a young couple in New York City, "Hereditary" deals directly with a family mourning their recently deceased mother and grandmother, Ellen. The Grahams, including mom Annie (Toni Collette) and son Peter (Alex Wolff in a demanding role), had a complicated relationship with Ellen, made more fraught by her sense of secrecy, which turns out to have been related to her cultish underpinnings. The movie foreshadows the degree to which their destiny has been decided through Annie's miniatures of their house.

When Peter's careless driving results in the roadside decapitation of his sister, Charlie (Milly Shapiro), he ends up — like Rosemary — in his own twisted chain of events as the cult of Paimon plots to use him as a vessel for their demon king.

Both movies also end with a twisted take on a happy ending. Rosemary gets the chance to play mother to her unholy spawn, and Peter, having lost everything in his life, is crowned by the cult of Paimon, in an enigmatic and terrifying ending.

The cult of Paimon

Using Paimon rather than the Devil gives "Hereditary" a darker feeling. By capitalizing on its demon's obscurity and not utilizing the familiar imagery audiences associate with the Devil, Aster does something unique, even if the structure is similar to "Rosemary's Baby."

As Aster told Vox, he had been "pretty unambiguous in his love for ... 'Rosemary's Baby,'" which resulted in that movie's influence on "Hereditary" and the "familiar elements" that some viewers picked up on. His search for a new demon led him to Paimon, a figure with a long history in the occult that goes back to at least the 17th century and who is particularly notable in the occult text, "The Lesser Key of Solomon." 

Digging into Paimon's history, he told Vox, informed how he cast a spell and formulated a ritual for the film. In turn, that knowledge gave him the necessary inspiration to tell the story of the Graham family's unraveling, applying a supernatural bent to mundane human failings. That intertwining of the natural with the supernatural was key to the movie's success.

The idea of a cult conspiracy is clearly significant to Aster — it came up in his 2019 film "Midsommar" as well. With each movie, his angle on that story — unique in both inspiration and execution — has proven capable of creating wild, horrific imagery.