One Of The Scariest Scenes In Hereditary Chases You Into The Attic...and Beyond

(Welcome to Scariest Scene Ever, a column dedicated to the most pulse-pounding moments in horror with your tour guides, horror experts Chris Evangelista and Matt Donato. In this edition, Chris reminds you he is your mother with "Hereditary.")

Ari Aster burst onto the scene in a big way with "Hereditary." The film wowed audiences at Sundance, earned strong reviews (especially for star Toni Collette), and ended up being indie darling A24's biggest box office hit (a distinction it held up until the release of "Everything Everywhere All At Once"). With the release of Aster's latest, "Beau is Afraid," we here at Scariest Scene Ever decided to take a look back at where it all began. 

The setup

After the death of her mother, things grow increasingly worse for Annie Graham (Toni Collette) and her family. Her mother's body disappears from the cemetery; her son Peter (Alex Wolff) gets into a car accident that kills his sister Charlie (Milly Shapiro) in a gruesome manner; ghosts and/or demons are potentially summoned; a cult is revealed; people are set on fire; heads are chopped off. 

It's a lot. 

The story so far

By the time we get to the scene in question (more on that below), the Graham family has fractured. Poor Peter feels like he's losing his mind — a fact heightened in a scene where some malevolent force causes him to smash his face on his desk at school. Meanwhile, Annie has attempted to summon the spirit of Charlie, but begins to believe she summoned something else instead. Something that wants Peter. The only solution, Annie tells her befuddled husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), is to set fire to a book. And oh yeah, Annie has also discovered her mother's headless body in the attic. Fun!

Long story short: the book gets burned, and so does Steve. Whoops. At that point, something possesses Annie. And then Peter, who has been up in his room sleeping and resting from his face-smashing incident, wakes up. 

The scene

First thing first: I'm cheating a little this week. This is technically a series of scenes, not one. But they all run into each other to create the film's big climax, so I think I can get away with it. And even if I can't, I'm going to do it anyway. 

I love "Hereditary." I love Collette's performance; I love the film's very dark sense of humor; I love the way it just keeps building towards this grand, gruesome finale. Peter wakes up and in the darkness of his room, he doesn't realize his mother is there, too — crawling on the walls like a spider. It's a terrifying image that's also bleakly funny — we watch Annie scurry in the shadows as Peter is oblivious. Eventually, though, he sees her — along with a bunch of naked cultists who happen to be hanging around the house with big old grins on their faces. 

Peter flees to the attic, locking himself in while a floating Annie bangs her head against the attic door, violently. Eventually, she will enter the attic (it's not exactly clear how) and proceed to cut her own head off with some piano wire, as one does. This is, understandably, too much for Peter, who flings himself out a window. But there will be no relief for this poor kid, or at least his body, which ends up possessed by a demon known as King Paimon. This was all part of a big plan of a cult led by Peter's grandmother — to find a male host for Paimon. 

All of this unfolds at breakneck (or head-chopped) speed, creating a crescendo of craziness and a genuinely unnerving series of scenes — not to mention the dark-as-heck finale, where evil triumphs, "Rosemary's Baby"-style. 

The impact (Matt's take)

Ari Aster's debut feature "Hereditary" is still my favorite of his building catalog now three titles in, largely due to some seared-into-nightmares scares. Whether it be this finale, or as your eyes adjust to Toni Collette clinging unnaturally to her son's bedroom wall, "Hereditary" is effectively terrifying in generous bursts. Closers close, and Aster learns from the best. The finishing sequence is a marathon of frantic chases, neck flossing, beheaded worshippers, and treehouses of terror as a symphony of chimes ushers in the story's otherwise dreadful conclusion. Aster goes for broke and uses copious amounts of frightening imagery to send off "Hereditary," putting on a masterclass about payoffs and how to reward audiences for their patience.