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Writer-director Ari Aster's 2018 debut feature film Hereditary is the horror movie equivalent of a haymaker punch to the gut. Hereditary tells the story of a family plagued by generational curses as well as a demon cult, but, believe it or not, that really freaky cult isn't the scariest part of the movie. Be warned, however: major spoilers ahead.
One of the most memorable scenes in Hereditary is the closing scene in the treehouse, in which Peter, now housing the demonic Paimon's soul, is crowned the King of Hell on Earth. For the kinds of viewers who didn't care for the movie, this ending came out of nowhere. But to viewers who paid close attention, who read the literal writing on the walls, this scene was the culmination of every single frame of the film up to that point. The closing scene is a testament to the secret machinations of the cult of Paimon.
Throughout the whole film, the cult manipulates nearly every event: from the funeral, to Charlie's death, to Annie's desperate spiral into spiritualism, to Peter's utter mental and physical collapse. We even learn that the cult stretches back generations before the events of the film, leading to the deaths of Annie's father and brother and even the births of her children. From the shadows, they manipulate everything that befalls the Graham family until all that's left is Peter's broken shell with a demon filling. But why should we be afraid, apart from the film's shocking imagery? What's to fear? Demons aren't real, right?
Wait… is Paimon real?
Well, Paimon is as real as any demon is real, which depends on your personal worldview. But he's as real as any of those demons that were famously tamed by King Solomon. Paimon appears in the 16th-century grimoire known as The Lesser Key of Solomon, arguably the most influential work of demonology of all time.
According to The Lesser Key, Paimon is a King of Hell who wears a crown and rides a camel, preceded by the sound of trumpets. If you invoke him, he can grant you knowledge of all arts and sciences and secret knowledge of the Earth, wind, and waters. Furthermore, he can grant you good familiars and dignities and lordships, as well as revealing hidden treasures.
Writer-director Ari Aster goes to some pains to be accurate in his depiction of Paimon, though he embellishes in a few places. For example, the idea that Paimon requires a male host seems to be an original idea, though Paimon is sometimes described as having a woman's face, so gender issues are not out of nowhere. But is Paimon himself out of nowhere in the movie? What are signs of his presence?
One of the biggest clues to Paimon's presence is his symbol which can be found lurking in many crucial scenes. Annie and her mother are both seen wearing necklaces with the seal of Paimon at the first funeral. Once Joan is revealed as a cult member, you can see Paimon's seal on her wall. Most significantly, though, you can see Paimon's seal carved on the utility pole where Charlie will later be decapitated, which reveals how even that shocking event was orchestrated by the cult of Paimon.
Cultists everywhere | 0:22
The Lesser Key | 1:23
The devil is in the details | 2:22
The invisible hand | 3:04
Pay attention in class | 4:17
A doll's house | 5:27
Lamb to the slaughter | 6:37
The illusion of control | 7:32
The things we carry | 8:57
No escape, no control | 9:41