Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Hereditary's 12 Most Disturbing Moments Ranked

Ari Aster's feature directorial debut, "Hereditary," is one of A24's most successful movies, second only to Everything Everywhere All At Once. It follows Annie Graham (Toni Collette) and her family as they work through the death of her mother, Ellen (Kathleen Chalfant). Annie never had the best relationship with her mother, which caused a trickledown with her children, Peter (Alex Wolff) and Charlie (Milly Shapiro). She kept her firstborn son away from her mother, worried after incidents in their family's past. Though she loosened the reins with Charlie, which resulted in her daughter and mother having an especially close relationship, their mother-daughter relationship never quite recovered.

This movie is designed to scare you to the bone; it even psychologically impacted one of the actors, Wolff, to the point of losing sleep. Considering everything the cast went through in the film, from slamming their face into a desk to going through all the stages of grief twice over, it's no surprise that the horror of the film was felt by the actors too. Audiences are taken on that rollercoaster of a journey as the true nature of the story unfolds.

Like any horror film, "Hereditary" is filled with off-putting moments. But which ones should you be pulling the blanket over your eyes for? From the most obvious scenes to the ones where the horror creeps on you after the fact, we've compiled and ranked the most disturbing moments in "Hereditary."

12. Charlie's notebook

After performing a séance taught to her by the mysterious Joan (Ann Dowd) to try and communicate with the spirit of her deceased daughter, Charlie, Annie discovers that new drawings are appearing in her daughter's notebook. Each one is the same thing: a picture of what appears to be her brother, Peter, with crosses through his eyes, and his mouth contorted in pain or anguish. His mother takes this as a threat to his life and immediately tries to show her husband, Steve (Gabriel Byrne).

The aftermath of Annie's attempt to talk with Charlie from the other side is more disturbing than the séance itself, even though the spiritual event included Charlie's voice coming out of her mother's mouth. The drawings are a turning point in the plot, finally seeming to clue Annie in that something sinister is going on around them.

It also hints at what's to come later on in the film. Annie starts to realize that even if the spirit she conjured up was Charlie, there is a hostility to them that she needs to remedy before she loses another family member and her remaining child.

11. Peter's smiling reflection

There is always something unsettling when your reflection doesn't look like what you expected. It's even more disturbing when it starts to smile creepily at you. This happens to Peter both in class and as he's leaving school. He hears Charlie's signature tongue click and turns around, only to see a reflection that doesn't match his facial expression, first in a cabinet and later in a school bus window.

These scenes exude an uncanny valley vibe since you know it isn't really Peter smiling despite it looking like him. It's worse when it sinks in exactly who is smiling back at him: It's Paimon. The demon knows what fate awaits Peter if his followers are successful in their efforts. He knows that it isn't much longer until the teen's spirit is removed and he can take over his destined male form, leading his followers from a physical form rather than a spiritual one. While it isn't the most startling moment in the film, it's undeniably unnerving.

10. Annie's insect hallucinations

After watching her enigmatic friend Joan, whom she met in a support group, conduct a séance, Annie goes home and experiences a harrowing vision. She sleepwalks, following a trail of insects to Peter's room. All sorts of insects appear, but as she sees her son asleep in bed, his face is covered in ants, just like Charlie's head on the side of the road, although this time the scene is cloaked in darkness, rather than in sunlight. 

What makes the scene disturbing is that despite being able to see Annie's face and recognize she is probably screaming, all the audience can hear alongside the music is the buzzing of the insects, making it appear as if the buzzing is coming from her rather than the hallucination. When she wakes up, Peter asks what she's doing there, and she realizes that what she was seeing wasn't real. It's built from a dread over what happened to Charlie, making the scene more than just a startling image of insects covering someone; it's a mother's worst fear realized.

9. Charlie's head covered in ants

If seeing Peter crawling with insects wasn't off-putting enough, there's a scene of Charlie's head on the side of the road after the accident. It comes the morning after, already covered in insect life, a single eye visible and unharmed to let the audience know who it is. This is the first time we see what happened, as all that's visible in the night before is the shape of it moving through the air. The true horror of the incident isn't revealed until this moment. 

The juxtaposition of seeing Peter's head lying still in his bed where he has been awake since getting home, tilted to the left, and Charlie's head on the side of the road, tilted to the right, is a drastic contrast, like two halves of a mother's heart. It's all the more disturbing since the shot is simply a fixed shot of Charlie's head, illuminated by sunlight, with nowhere else for the audience to look during the scene. You are forced to face what happened head-on — no pun intended.

8. Joan's ritual

It's established early on in "Hereditary" that Joan is experienced in séances and rituals — at least, that's what she tells Annie when she teaches her how to do it. What viewers may not have been anticipating were the other rituals the woman participates in. When Annie arrives at Joan's apartment, trying to get help after discovering what her mother was a part of, her new friend isn't home. But the audience is shown the inside of her apartment, which is filled with candles, draped sheets, a picture of Peter in a triangle, and one of Charlie's macabre toys with a pigeon's head attached.

The assortment of items in Joan's apartment makes it clear that something disturbing is going on, but what makes this even more chilling is Annie's dawning realization that her friend has the same doormat as her mother, meaning they both belonged to the same group. This reveal is a real lightbulb moment, explaining everything that's happened since the séance, which probably served a different function than what Joan assured the grieving mother it was. These factors combine to make this a truly disturbing sequence to watch unfold.

7. Charlie and the dead bird

During the first act of "Hereditary," audiences are introduced to Charlie's uniquely off-putting quirks, such as the chocolate bars she loves, the toys she makes, and her compulsive tongue clicks. One of these quirks involves watching a bird fly into the window of her classroom, finding it dead later on during recess, and cutting its head off, putting it in the pocket of her iconic oversized orange hoodie. Any animal mutilation is bound to be upsetting, but this scene becomes even more disturbing when placed in context with the rest of the film.

This is the first sign that decapitation will be a theme in the film. Charlie is already shown to be different from her peers — instead of finishing a test in class, she's crafting a toy. That difference, which we later learn is because of who she was meant to become, is only amplified as viewers watch her cut the pigeon's head off with scissors stolen from her teacher and then repurpose it for her art. It's also revealed this isn't the first time she's done it. It all hints at what's in store for Charlie, both in how she dies and how her head will be used after her death. A character subconsciously foreshadowing their own fate definitely qualifies as disturbing.

6. Peter breaking his nose

In the aftermath of Annie's séance, Joan performs her own disturbing ritual. Peter begins experiencing some inexplicable paranormal activity while at school. After his grandmother's friend appears across the street from his school, yelling for him to "get out," this activity steps up a notch. This moment isn't the first time something odd has happened to Peter in class, but it's the first time everyone else in the class is aware of this.

After hearing Charlie's signature click, he quickly seems to lose control of his body — his arm flies straight up at an unnatural angle, his face contorts into a gruesome expression, and he slams his face into his desk twice, forcefully enough to break, or at least severely injure his nose. Peter comes to himself again, falling back and out of his chair and repeatedly screaming, appearing to look at something no one else can see, which terrifies the other students. 

The chilling music combined with Peter's facial expressions and movements makes this an alarming scene. He has no control over what is happening to him, and he's already scared and traumatized from the events he's had to live through in recent months. Seeing what little control the teen has left slip away over something his grandmother was an active participant in is disturbing in the saddest way.

5. Charlie's death

Charlie's sudden death is easily one of the most disturbing moments in the film despite being director Ari Aster's favorite scene. After being forced to attend a high school party by her mother, and promptly abandoned by her brother so he can go smoke, she eats some chocolate cake. It emerges that there were walnuts in the cake, and Charlie has a serious nut allergy. As her throat swells, Peter drives as fast as he can to the nearest hospital, and a panicking Charlie hangs out the window for fresh air. When Peter swerves to avoid hitting a dead deer, he drives onto the side of the road and right by a telephone pole, which collides with Charlie's head. 

Though what happens is heavily foreshadowed, it still comes as a shock that Charlie is killed. A death of this nature is off-putting by default, but knowing that her life was already in danger because of her allergy and that her brother trying to save her is what resulted in the accident makes it 10 times worse. From the gruesome sound of her hitting the pole to Peter being unable to bring himself to look in the backseat and trying to convince himself everything was okay as he drives away (without part of his sister), it is disturbing from start to finish. 

4. Burning Charlie's notebook

When Annie tries to burn Charlie's notebook after the threatening drawings of Peter appear in it, her arm lights on fire. As she stamps out the fire on the notebook, the flames on her arm melt away. It's a protection mechanism, since the notebook is essential to whatever ritual is taking place to give Paimon his new body, although Annie doesn't know this yet.

Once she discovers that her mother and Joan are part of the same demon-worshipping cult, she attempts to burn the notebook again, explaining to Steve what she has found in the attic, and what this means.

After seeing Peter's desk-inflicted injuries, she shows her husband the notebook and tells him she tried to burn it but it would've killed her too. However, she is now adamant that they need to "destroy" both the book and herself in order to protect Peter. When she asks Steve to burn it, he comments that he doesn't want to continue like this, and says he will call the police. In desperation, Annie snatches the notebook from his hands and tosses it into the fire, but in a shocking twist, the flames consume Steve instead. 

Seeing anyone burn alive is startling, but the look on Annie's face when she realizes she was wrong makes it one of the most disturbing moments of the film. There is nothing she can do at that moment to save either her husband or her son and immediately switches from shock to being possessed by Paimon. 

3. Annie in the attic

As Annie is figuring out just what type of group her mother was a part of, she heads to her attic. When she opens the door, a foul smell and a swarm of flies startle her. Once inside, Annie discovers a headless corpse, revealed to be that of her mother, with symbols written in blood on the wall above her. To spare her feelings, Steve had previously declined to tell Annie that someone vandalized her mother's grave, so it is a complete shock to find her body in the attic.

This isn't the first decapitated person "Hereditary" has shown, but it is much different than the others. Annie's mother has been deceased for months, meaning her skin is discolored, and Annie doesn't even recognize her at first, with the sight causing her to retch. It would be upsetting to find a dead body under any circumstances, but even more so when it's your mother, who you were under the impression was buried in the ground at a cemetery and not in your attic with no indication of how long they've been there.

2. Peter and Annie in the attic

After being chased into the attic by his mother (or rather Paimon in his mother's body), Peter thinks he's locked her out — in spite of her gravity-defying head-banging on the door. Just when the noise stops, the oldest Graham child notices his surroundings: The remnants of a possible ritual or ceremony, with lit candles spaced throughout the attic, around a photo of himself with his eyes gouged out, and the outline of a body. Convinced that he's dreaming, Peter tries to slap himself awake, but a noise from above makes him look up to the ceiling, where he is confronted with the horrific sight of his mother decapitating herself with piano wire.

Already terrified of what Annie could do next, Peter now has to watch as she mutilates herself, helpless to save her. She stares him down as she does this, and Peter and the audience can hear every noise the wire makes against her neck. It's even more disturbing when viewers realize Annie is possessed when this is happening, meaning she has no control over her actions. She goes from offering to sacrifice herself to protect her son to chasing him down in an attempt to hurt him. It's as heartbreaking as it is startling.

1. King Paimon

The most disturbing moment in "Hereditary" by far is when everything comes together for the terrifying ending. After jumping out a window to escape his mother and the other people in the attic, Peter hits the ground, granting the spirit of Charlie aka Paimon the ability to possess his body. He heads toward the treehouse, which he has just witnessed his mother's headless body float into, and the resulting scene serves as the culmination of every other off-putting moment in the film. We see his mother's and grandmother's bodies arranged in a bowing position towards a mannequin that has Charlie's head on top, with other cult members also bowing in the same direction.

Is this scene the most graphic in the film? No, and it doesn't need to be. What makes it disturbing is the entire effect the scene has on the audience. From the reveal of where all the bodies ended up, to the music, to the satanic chanting of "Hail Paimon," the audience is only shown bits and pieces of what's in the treehouse and several long close-ups of Peter's face. Nothing makes sense until Joan's voice registers with a voiceover and the true horror of the film is realized. Charlie was never Charlie; she was always King Paimon, in need of a male form, and the coven had been working to remedy this body mistake for years.