Hereditary Ending Explained: All Hail Paimon

"Hereditary" might well be one of the most unsettling films of the last decade, but it's not always an easy one to follow. At first glance, it's a highly-strung family melodrama with a dark secret hiding beneath the surface.

And director Ari Aster goes to great lengths to keep that secret just out of sight.

"Hereditary" is the story of the Graham family, which is struggling with loss after the death of its unseen matriarch, Ellen Tapper Leigh (Kathleen Chalfant). There's very clearly something wrong here as the creeping tension engulfs the family, whether it's seen through eerie miniatures made by Annie (Toni Collette) or the outright weirdness of the family's youngest child, Charlie (Milly Shapiro).

The family melodrama begins to simmer and soon boils over. There's unresolved tension throughout the family — Charlie was clearly grandma's favorite, while Annie paints a picture of a fractured family via her work. 

Then, there's Peter (Alex Wolff). Obviously struggling to fit in with his highly-strung family, Peter is an average teenager trying to find his feet. He's more into parties and smoking weed than looking after his younger sister, and when tragedy strikes, the family begins a descent into hell.

"The film is a horror film, it's unabashedly one, but as I was pitching it, I was describing it as a family tragedy that curdles into a nightmare," said writer and director Ari Aster.

And while that nightmare begins with the death of yet another family member, it turns out the answers were hiding in plain sight all along.

It's all about Paimon

By the time the final act comes around, "Hereditary" reveals its hand: It's all about Paimon.

A demon and one of the eight lords of hell, Paimon has been at the very core of the film right from the beginning. But who exactly is he? Paimon is a Goetic demon, often described as a king or high-ranking demon from hell. Aster found references to Paimon in a book called "The Lesser Key of Solomon" during his research and decided to go with it.

"The devil has been done to death," he said in a Reddit AMA. "Paimon was my favorite option that came up in my research."

When it comes to "Hereditary," it's Paimon who is summoned at the very end of the film, and it's revealed that Peter is his intended vessel — a human host for Paimon to embody on Earth. That's right: After (metaphorically) going through hell and back, Peter is revealed to be the focus of the entire twisted story.

The death of his sister, his mother's breakdown, and everything that follows serves to wear him down emotionally. Only when Peter is at his lowest point can he become susceptible, and then he's used as a vessel for the demon Paimon.

It turns out that his grandmother manipulated their entire lives for this purpose. There are hints of this throughout the movie, but we'll get to that. Suffice to say that the grandmother's influence, and the cult she founded, can be felt all the way through the film.

A demonic seal hiding in plain sight

Our first glimpse of Paimon's influence comes very early in "Hereditary." We just didn't know it at the time.

One of the film's first scenes depicts the funeral of the Graham family matriarch — the sinister grandmother whose influence extends over all their lives. But she's more than just a granny who oversteps boundaries. She's actually the founder of a sinister cult who's controlling the family for its own nefarious ends.

And that's depicted by her oddly-shaped necklace.

That necklace is actually a sigil — a demonic seal found in occult texts which represents the demon Paimon. Good old grandma is seen wearing one on her necklace, but the seal is found throughout the film, notably etched into the telegraph pole which decapitates poor Charlie.

The mid-17th century book "The Lesser Key of Soloman describes Paimon as "[appearing] in the form of a Man sitting upon a Dromedary [one-humped camel] with a Crown most glorious upon his head."

Of course, in the film's final scenes, we see Peter crowned by the Cult of Paimon, thus becoming the vessel for the demon itself. But the cult has been interfering with Peter and his family long before the film begins.

In fact, their influence can literally be seen throughout the family home.

The writing's on the wall

There's a moment during "Hereditary" when Annie finds obscure writing on the wall of Charlie's room, but doesn't really question it. In fact, she's later seen adding the word "Satony" to the model she's making.

And that's not the only bit of weird text you can find in the Graham family home.

If you look closely, you'll find the words "satony," "zazas," and "liftoach pandemonium" scrawled onto the walls and in hidden spots throughout the film. But what does it mean? In that same Reddit AMA, Aster explains what it's all about:

"Those are isolated pieces of an invocation spell that is suggested to be written all over the house. We only see three of these in the film, but there are many more (probably written behind furniture or otherwise hidden). 'Liftoach Pandemonium' has a special significance. It translates as 'Open Up Chaos (or Hell).'"

The word "satony" is frequently used in necromancy, while "zazas" seems to refer to a spirit frequently conjured by Ouija boards. Obviously, this is a strong hint about what's to come, with the Cult of Paimon (and presumably dear old granny) opening up the gates of hell to commune with their lord.

The clues were all there if you knew where to look. And it looks as though Peter wasn't the cult's first attempt to find a host for Paimon.

Annie's brother was the first attempt

Annie also has a mysterious brother who is mentioned by name but never seen.

It's revealed that years before the events of "Hereditary," Annie's brother took his own life following a diagnosis of schizophrenia. That would have been tragic enough already — except it's not entirely true.

At one point, Annie explains what happened:

"My older brother had schizophrenia and when he was 16, he hanged himself in my mother's bedroom and of course the suicide note blamed her, accusing her of putting people inside him."

It's an eerie confession, and while Annie seems oblivious to her mother's motives, it reveals what granny was up to the entire time. Clearly, she had attempted to use her own son as a vessel for the demon Paimon. And when that didn't work out, she moved on to find a new one.

Why didn't she try to use Annie as a vessel? Well, that's a little more complicated. You see, Paimon desires a male form, which is why the cult tries to use Annie's brother at first and then moves on to Annie's son, Peter.

But there was also another attempt in between...

Charlie was Paimon, too

Despite the demon's demand for a male host, it looks as though the Cult of Paimon grew restless.

After the failed attempt with Annie's brother, the Cult clearly turned its interest toward Peter, but there was a problem: Annie's husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) wanted the family to have nothing to do with their grandmother.

"She lived in our house at the end before hospice," Annie revealed at group therapy. "We weren't even talking before that. I mean, we were and then we weren't. And then we were. She's completely manipulative. Until my husband finally enforced a no-contact rule, which lasted until I got pregnant with my daughter."

That's right — Charlie was the catalyst for granny being allowed to return. And according to Annie, it wasn't long before she "got her hooks" into her.

"Charlie is the first successful host for Paimon," revealed Aster in an interview with Variety. "It's transferred from Charlie to Peter at the end. [It's Paimon] from the moment she's born. I mean, there's a girl that was displaced, but she was displaced from the very beginning."

Essentially, that means that it's Paimon inhabiting Charlie's body throughout "Hereditary" ... and that makes it far easier for the demon and its cult to manipulate Peter.

The poor boy never stood a chance. When the time came, it was Peter who was displaced to make way for the lord of hell. Thanks, grandma.