the writing life

Movie Review: Hereditary #horror #demons

There was a LOT of vitriol and criticism of this movie within the non-generational Daemonolatry community when it came out.  I generally roll my eyes when people criticize movies like this because movies are fiction and the simple fact is that the idea of supernatural demons scares a lot of people. Not to mention daemons have been used as plot devices to scare the pants off of primarily Judeo-Christian audiences since the nineteen-sixties at least.  That’s not going to change.  The sooner occultists accept this and move on, the more they can save their outrage for things that matter, like racial and gender inequality or the skyrocketing prices of housing.

I have only recently gotten around to seeing this film after certain friends – generational friends – who loved it, kept prodding me to see it  – and the truth is: I wasn’t expecting to like it at all because I also had close friends who hated the movie with a passion due to the stigma of mental illness that the film perpetuated – which is a fair criticism.

I already had it set in my mind that it was likely stupid, contrived, and rehashed nonsense as I’d heard it compared to The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby – both fun yarns in their own right.  

So first — I felt this was a well-done psychological horror film. Absolutely amazing AND (now I’m going to say something that may piss off some fledgling Daemonolaters who may not understand this) the choice of including the Daemon Paimon in the movie was both brilliant and astute on the part of the writer(s).

Let me tell you why.

If you, as a magician, were working through emotional issues and family trauma — out of the entire Goetic hierarchy — Paimon would be an excellent and, dare I say, the most logical choice for that. What do Daemons make us do? Face our fears and our traumas in order to grow, change, and become stronger.

The writer of the film had a more solid understanding of the Daemonic than a lot of folks gave him/her credit for. In this film, Paimon becomes a metaphor for the emotional trauma we carry with us – and the need to face that fear of our emotional inheritance and to find the strength to keep going.  ::mic drop::

It’s so fucking obvious.

SPOILER ALERT: When Peter, at the end, becomes a host for Paimon – that whole scene is a metaphor for survival. To draw in Paimon is to draw strength and to keep going, and hopefully begin healing emotionally. It is only through Paimon that Peter can survive at all. The horror in this story is actually that the mother (who is likely already mentally ill – as some mental illness is oftentimes hereditary) snaps after both her mother and daughter die, kills her husband and herself — leaving her son as the only survivor. He blames himself for his sister’s death and the chain reaction it started. THAT psychological trauma is the horror. Paimon is the one who saves Peter from that horror and helps him continue on despite it.

Now – about the coven. We assume the coven is actually making all of this happen in order to drive the mother into madness, destroy the family, etc… in order to take Peter as a host for Paimon. But notice that the only time you actually see the coven – they’re trying to help. We don’t see them put the dead body of the grandmother in the attic — that could be the mother’s psychotic delusion or something she did herself (there are hints that a lot of what the mother is seeing is due to a psychotic break and is not a supernatural reality). The mother fears the coven due to her own paranoia and mental illness. The mother’s POV is not to be trusted. The only time we actually see the coven — they are there to help the mother through the trauma of losing her daughter. They are there to support Peter after his ordeal of losing his entire family. Also notice that Peter doesn’t change a whole lot after Paimon “possesses” him at the end. He still looks traumatized – even “as” Paimon. Which is a huge clue that the Daemon didn’t possess him in the same way most horror films portray Daemonic possession. So the possession didn’t solve everything or change him. It was only the first step in Peter’s journey to survival and healing. Just my thoughts on the matter.

ADDED: A FB friend also pointed out that the beheading imagery is about Peter’s transcendence (transcendence of his own limitations brought on by the trauma), which I also agree with. I viewed that last scene as a fresh start or new beginning for Peter, which goes hand in hand with that transcendence imagery.

This was yet another one of those movies where occultists either get the meaning behind it and understand the horror, or they don’t – much like A Dark Song or The Ninth Gate. People who know nothing of the Abramelin Rite didn’t “get” A Dark Song.  People who don’t enjoy Polanski’s puzzles and subtle foreshadowing don’t “get” The Ninth Gate (a movie I originally HATED btw until someone pointed out a few things – like the fact that the journey matters, and that without the work – magick will often fail). Just like occultists who don’t truly understand Paimon as the Goetia’s equivalent of the Water Element and his role in emotional healing won’t get Hereditary (or will find it offensive for its use of Paimon in the story).

If you absolutely hated this movie, re-watch it with the above in mind and see if it grows on you. Of course with all things, art is subjective. I would no more be offended by someone who hated it and found it offensive, than I would be by someone who loved it for what it was: a fictional psychological horror film about fractured family and the emotional/psychological trauma we inherit (and must overcome). 

The novel A Headful of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay comes to mind, which I highly recommend if you haven’t read it.

Steph is an award winning and bestselling author of thrilling steamy and paranormal romances, dark urban fantasy, occult horror-thrillers, cozy mysteries, contemporary romance, sword and sorcery fantasy, and books about the esoteric and Daemonolatry. A Daemonolatress and forever a resident of Smelt Isle, she is happily married and cat-mom to three pampered house cats. Her muse is a demanding sadistic Dom who often keeps her up into the wee hours of the morning. You can contact her at

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