In this section of our Colossus Movie Guide for Hereditary, we will explain the film’s ending.
- Annie Graham – Toni Collette
- Steve Graham – Gabriel Byrne
- Peter Graham – Alex Wolff
- Charlie Graham – Milly Shapiro
- Ellen Taper Leigh – Kathleen Chalfant
- Joan – Ann Dowd
- Bridget – Mallory Bechtel
- Written by – Ari Aster
- Directed by – Ari Aster
The end of Hereditary explained
Hereditary’s final stretch begins with Peter waking up in his bedroom in an all-too-quiet house. Unbeknownst to him, the body of his possessed mother hides in the upper corner of the room. In the living room, he finds the charred body of his father. Before he has time to process what’s happening, he sees a nude man in a doorway. Then “Annie” leaps at him. Peter flies back up stairs, trailed by demon Annie. Coincidentally, the attic ladder is there for him to climb up and hide. Gripped by terror, he devolves from calling his mom “mom” to calling her “mommy”.
In the attic, Peter discovers signs of the Paimon coven’s rituals. Lit candles. The spot on the floor where his grandmother’s corpse had been. A photo of Peter with his eyes poked out. He tries to wake himself up, convinced he’s dreaming. Suddenly, his mom’s floating close to the ceiling, sawing through her own neck. Ahead of Peter, more of the coven’s members, also nude. Peter jumps out the window.
Down the ground, a shadow drifts away from Peter’s body and out of the camera frame. Then a glimmer of light moves over the body, pauses, and diffuses into it. Peter awakens. He sees his mom’s headless body float into the treehouse. Peter clicks like Charlie. On the way to the tree house, he passes the family dog, also perished.
Inside the tree house, Peter finds the members of the Paimon cult. They’re nude and bowing. He turns to find an effigy. It’s Charlie’s decomposed head on a wooden mannequin with the Paimon symbol carved on the chest. The figure holds a staff and wears a crown. Next to it is a bird in a cage. In front of it, the body of Annie and Annie’s mother, Ellen. Both headless and positioned bowing. A portrait on the wall, of Ellen, has the title, “Queen Leigh”.
Joan rises from the ranks of the coven and takes the crown from the effigy. She puts it atop Peter’s head. Shockingly, the bodies of Annie and Ellen have rotated, turning from the effigy to Peter.
Joan: Oh, hey, hey, hey. It’s alright. Charlie. You’re alright now. You are Paimon, one of the eight kings of Hell. We have looked to the Northwest and called you in. We’ve corrected your first female body and give you now this healthy male host. We reject the Trinity and pray devoutly to you, great Paimon. Give us your knowledge of all secret things. Bring us honor, wealth, and good familiars. Bind all men to our will, as we have bound ourselves for now and ever to yours. Hail, Paimon.
The last shot is zoomed out and shows the scene from the tree house except it’s a wooden miniature of the scene. A miniature just like the kind Annie made.
Diegetically speaking, in Hereditary, demons exist. Spirits exist. Spiritual possession is possible. What happens in the end is the conclusion of a decades-long plan enacted by this coven to bring the demon king Paimon into this world. Why? It’s said that the “Conjurer” is to receive riches. A drawing in a book displays a person sitting atop a mountain of gold and jewels. But it’s also said that through Paimon, people will gain knowledge, wealth, and the ability to influence the will of others. Which is what Joan requests at the crowning ceremony.
It’s said in the same book that Paimon dislikes being in a female host and gets angry about it. So what seems to have happened is “Queen Leigh”, Annie’s mother, initially conjured Paimon into Charlie. But Paimon was upset with them and wouldn’t bestow his favor upon the coven. Which meant they had to perform a whole ceremony to unbind Paimon from Charlie and re-bind him to Peter. It seems the preparation for this took a number of years but the movie picks up with the beginning of the unbinding ceremony. Over the course of the film, we witness both the unbinding and rebinding ceremonies. The first concludes with Charlie’s death. The second with Peter’s possession.
That means almost everything that happens to Charlie, Annie, and Peter is by design. For example, the coven had already branded the telephone pole that takes Charlie’s head off. That implies they knew what would happen there before it happened. We can also assume they put the deer corpse in the road that caused Peter to swerve close to the pole. Likewise, the only reason Annie reads an incantation that allows Paimon’s spirit into her home is because Joan, a member of the coven, manipulates her. This idea of characters caught in a design is reinforced by Peter’s high school English class and the discussion on the story of Heracles and if Heracles is to blame for events if those events are preordained. Is it more tragic or less tragic if someone doesn’t have a choice in what happens? [For more on this topic, see our section on Hereditary’s themes].
It’s unclear if it’s the spirit of Paimon in Annie during the final stretch or some other evil spirit who is assisting in events. Either way, the goal is to bring about Peter’s death. The coven members seemed positioned in a way to either drive him toward the attic or because they already knew the attic would be the climactic site (just like they knew the telephone pole would be it for Charlie). After Peter falls, the shadow leaving his body is probably his spirit. While the light is Paimon.
The light is something shown throughout the film. The first time is at the 24:00 minute mark. Charlie’s at her desk, building something, when suddenly the light passes across the room. Then passes back and on the wall. Charlie goes to her window and looks out the window. The next time we see her, she’s outside, with the head of the bird, walking, as if possessed, toward the woods, following someone else’s footsteps in the mud. Out in the woods, she sees her grandmother’s body in front of a fire. Her encounter with the telephone pole soon follows. The next time we see it is near the end, at the 1:20:28 mark. Peter then sees his reflection and his reflection is smirking, as if it was someone else, not him.
It seems safe to say then that the light is probably Paimon’s spirit. He has some connection to Charlie. Then a similar influence over Peter. But it’s not until Peter technically “leaves his body” that Paimon can fully take over. This idea that Paimon is present in spirit form probably adds to the cinematography throughout the film and the use of miniatures. As in, spirits may be looking at the world as if the world were a miniature. And there are times that the camera’s floating around as if from the perspective of a spirit in the house. Whether Paimon’s, Ellen’s, Charlie’s, whoever.
The main question seems to be not what happened but what happens next. If Paimon is the God of Mischief. One of eight demon kings of Hell. What’s that mean for the Earth? How much power does Paimon possess while in the body of a high school kid? Through his influence, wll the coven become incredibly rich and powerful? What does that look like? Are they reshaping global politics? Or getting the local mayor to repave the roads? Are they all billionaires? Or do they have a timeshare in Florida?
And what does Paimon do? He probably isn’t going to just go about Peter’s life? It would be silly if he graduated from high school, went to college, got a job, worked his way up the corporate ladder, and got married. Etc. Etc. So what does he do? Bring about Hell on Earth? Just hang out with the coven all day? From what we see, there’s not much personality. But that might just be the shock of the transference ceremony.
Lastly, when Joan mentions looking to the Northwest, it’s probably that each of the eight demon kings identifies with a coordinate. N, NE, E, SE, S, SW, W, NW. Paimon is to the Northwest what another might be to the Southeast. Also, the mention of rejecting the Trinity does imply that Christianity is real in the same way the demons are real. Though we don’t really see any evidence of a more divine presence.
What are your thoughts?
Is there more to the ending that you think should be part of the Colossus Movie Guide for Hereditary? Leave your thoughts below and we’ll consider adding them.