Thursday, March 7, 2019

The Ugliness of Modern Films, Part 2: The True Evil of the Horror Film 


I have been thinking about an article I wrote more than a year ago.  In the article, I compared Annabelle: Creation (2017) to Poltergeist (1982) as a way to demonstrate the moral decline of the horror film.  Since I wrote that article, an even more depraved horror film has been brought before the public.  That film is Hereditary (2018). 

Before I can discuss Hereditary, I need to establish a context for the film. 


Horror films of Hollywood's Golden Age tended to have religious overtones.  These were moral stories of good defeating evil.  Dracula (1931) introduces a great evil.

 
 
 
 
The audience is thoroughly scared, but then the good guys restore order.

 
 

At the time, filmmakers respected religious morality, which is only reasonable.  A group devotes itself to the cause of refinement as a way to advance themselves and produce a stable and productive society.  Important to the refinement process is morals.  It was under moral power that people turned away from their most barbaric impulses and produced great civilizations.

I have no problem with fair and sensible Breen-style censorship of films being used to protect morality and restrain malignant artists.  A civilization cannot be sustained without the suppression of bad behavior.  Behavior is a range of actions made by an individual in relationship with others.  Communicating images, speech and expressions, which a filmmaker does, is a form of behavior and it should be regulated just as any other form of behavior.  We can alternately categorize a film as a product and control it just as any other product.  Just as we regulate bottled water for contaminants, we can regulate a film for contaminants.  The question we must always ask is: Does this product inflict harm on the consumer?



A Hollywood film is far more commercial than artistic, but let's pretend for moment that it is plainly art.  We imagine art as beautiful and life-affirming.  We imagine the fantasy tales that are crafted by artists as escapist fun.  But there is wicked art and sick fantasy.  A film is a vile work if it acts to manipulate the viewer in a way that corrupts or diminishes him.

Plato believed that writers inspired bad behavior with stories that showed bad men succeeding and he believed that stories of this sort should be subjected to censorship.  He wrote specifically, "[W]riters of prose. . . [say] that there are many examples of men who, though unjust, are happy, and of just men who are wretched, and that there is profit in injustice if it be concealed. . . I presume that we shall forbid them to say this sort of thing and command them to sing and fable the opposite." 

Plato maintained that our manner "follow[s] and conform[s] to the disposition of the soul."  He believed that art could upset our internal rhythms and that the disharmony that results will likely create bad thoughts and bad behavior.  He wrote, "[S]eemliness and unseemliness are attendant upon the good rhythm and the bad." 

Plato realized that man has something in his soul that "hunger[s] for tears and a good cry" and it is "[this] element in us that the poets satisfy and delight."  But this is a part of us that, according to Plato, "has never been properly educated by reason or even by habit" and must be forcibly restrained to make us good people.  The philosopher made it clear that there was no shame in "contemplating the woes of others," but it is wrong for a man to let prose cause him to "relax [his] guard" and "abandon himself to excess in his grief."  He saw great danger in "vicarious pleasure."  He wrote, "[W]hat we enjoy in others will inevitably react upon ourselves.  For after feeding fat the emotion of pity there, it is not easy to restrain it in our own sufferings."  He believed that "the same principle appl[ied] to the laughable."  In his view, "comic representations. . . foster[ed] [a] youthful impudence."  We are taught to detest clownish behavior as base and come to fear a loss of reputation if we, ourselves, behaved in that way.  But our resistance is weakened when we "take intense pleasure in buffooneries that [we] would blush to practise [our]self." 

Jessica Moss, a New York University philosophy professor, wrote:
[Plato] is not merely making the complaint that various influential poets happen to write ethically harmful poetry.  Rather he has presented an argument "based on metaphysical and psychological theory" that only ethically harmful poetry - poetry that reflects and reinforces the flaws in popular morality - can compel us and move us with its portrayal of human affairs.
Socrates had similar views on the subject.  His concern, according to Raphael Foshay of Athabasca University, was that "tragic displays. . . constitute dramatic force and evoke intense audience response "  Parents teach their children restraint and fellowship while the tragic poets feed that part of the psyche that is excited by passion and conflict.  Socrates wrote:
Now, then, irritable disposition affords much and varied imitation, while the prudent and quiet character, which is always nearly equal to itself, is neither easily imitated, nor, when imitated, easily understood especially by a festive assembly.
Foshay further explained:
Even "the best of us," [Socrates] says, "praise as a good poet the man who most puts us in this state" (605d) of heightened tragic emotion.  In sum: "[F]or all the desires, pains, and pleasures in the soul that we say follow our action, poetic imitation produces similar results in us, for it fosters and waters them when they ought to be dried up, and sets them up as rulers in us" (606d).  We ought, Socrates says, to be ruled by those things described in Book VI that do not draw us into conflict and contradiction, the ideals of "the just, fair, and moderate by nature" (501b).
Famed French filmmaker Henri-Georges Clouzot talked to an interviewer about the origins of his film project L'enfer.   He said, "It all started with insomnia.  I had this idea which was to dramatize the anxiety attacks I suffer every night and which keep me awake.  So I wrote a 50-page treatment."  He explained that he wanted to convey to an audience the obsessions that can poison a man's mind.    The interviewer asked him, "Are you personally interested in the morbid and pathological?"  Clouzot pushed back on the question, denying that he himself was "a pathological case."  But he didn't seem sure about this.  In the end, he did admit to having suffered depression at one time.  



In fact, the filmmaker was viewed by many of his collaborators as troubled.  He was known for his pessimistic attitude, controlling work habits, and violent outbursts.  Actress Brigitte Bardot described Clouzot as "a negative being, forever at odds with himself and the world around him."

Henri was indeed a pathological case and, by expressing his anxieties, depressive thoughts and obsessions in L'enfer, he sought to spread his unique form of psychopathology to others.  These ills that poisoned his mind were now to be brought forth by him to poison other minds.  This is a grave problem we have in engaging uncritically with the auteur.

An artist can convey his pathology in a painting.  A person looks at the painting, finds themselves affected by it in some way, and then they move on to the next painting.  But a film is different than a painting.  It takes hold of us and controls us in a way that a painting can never do.  Unlike a painting, it is wholly immersive, creating a new reality for the viewer.  And films tend to blend together in crazes, a tidal wave of emotional, psychological and political manipulation that comes crashing down on a helpless and unsuspecting public. 


Was "body horror" a thing until David Cronenberg made it a thing?  Cronenberg believes that neurology is "an incredible theme" that we should discuss.  He said, "So much of our understanding of the human body comes from the need to deal with disease, things that we would never have thought to consider."  But Cronenberg's shocking films like Rapid (1977), Shivers (1979) and The Brood (1979) do not provide a helpful discussion of body-ravaging diseases.  They provide, instead, fodder for nightmares.  And we have various imitators, including Stuart Gordon, Lloyd Kaufman, Clive Barker, John Landis, Eli Roth and Peter Jackson, who reinforced Cronenberg's idea and made "body horror" part of the national psyche.


Charlie Brooker, the creator of the dark television series Black Mirror, made a significant admission while speaking at a Wired Live event.  He said, "One thing that people sometimes say about the show that slightly annoys me is. . . the show is inherently anti-technology or that it's warning people of the dangers of technology, which I really don't think it is.  I think it's partly that I'm neurotic and worry about everything.  I can worry about germs on a glass as much I would worry about social media. . . I worry about a lot of things."  He admitted that he felt uneasy having to be on a stage too high off the ground for his comfort.  He admitted being afraid of the crowd because he could envision a random audience member or members suddenly coming forward to attack him and maybe even kill him.  He admitted that he checked the exits of the auditorium on his arrival to make sure he could make a quick escape if trouble of any sort arose.

Forget it if you thought (like me) that the series was designed to provide a helpful warning about technology.  The fact that he sees his crowd of fans as homicidal maniacs explains the true ethos behind Black Mirror.  When asked to explain the series' success, Brooker said plainly, "Maybe people are just monsters and they just like seeing characters suffer.  There's always that [possibility]."  So, Brooker is turning out a wicked product to be consumed by wicked people.  Or is it possible that he is turning out wicked product that inspires people to be wicked? 

Brooker offers his fans a poor bargain.  He was frank on this point as he toured to promote the series' third season.  He said:
Overall, across the season, we have more of a variety in tone.  Because we're doing six episodes [rather than the usual three] this time around, we wanted to not always fling you into a pit of despair.  Sometimes we kick a few fucking hope biscuits at you on the way down.  Having said that, there are a few stories where we do fling you into a pit of despair and then piss on you.  Because people seem to like that.  But we didn't want to be like that all the time.  We wanted to broaden the scope of the show in general.
Business as usual, according to Brooker, is to "fling you into a pit of despair and then piss on you."  It is only because he has more time and can add a bit of variety to the series that he will "kick a few fucking hope biscuits at you." Obviously, Brooker intensely dislikes his fans and seeks to do them harm. His fans are monstrous beasts that he needs to trap in a pit and torture.

This exceeds the traditional scares of the horror film pioneers.  Today's horror film folk are different.  The men who create modern horror films tend to have an abusive relationship with those unfortunates who consume their work.  It is not their objective to delight or edify fans.  It is their objective to make fans miserable.


 

Brooker is a neurotic misanthrope.  But other filmmakers contribute more than personal neurosis and deep-seated cynicism to this trend.  It appears that Satanists are using the modern horror film to spread their malevolent influence.  Their films exalt and celebrate evil forces.

 

Daring the filmmaker to momentarily scare you is different than what recent horror films are trying to do.  In the latest reboot of Halloween, Michael Myers's first victim is a child.  Of course it is.  This is an ongoing trend meant to coarsen our spirits and normalize the murder of children.  Is it any wonder legislators in New York cheered after passing a law that allowed the murder of babies?  This is the same crowd roaring with glee to watch Michael Myers on a murderous rampage.  In the end, they have had the idea of killing babies insinuated into their consciousness.


 

It wasn't always like this.  The Exorcist (1973) involves a young girl possessed by an ancient Assyrian demon, Pazuzu.  William Peter Blatty designed the "Exorcist" novel to strengthen the reader's faith in God.  "It’s an argument for God," he said. "I intended it to be an apostolic work, to help people in their faith."  He made this clear in a 2000 interview with The Times-Picayune of New Orleans that people should understand the point of his story was, simply: "That God exists and the universe itself will have a happy ending."  As the novel, the film adaptation The Exorcist told us that faith in God gives us the power to ward off demons.  Blatty emphasized to the film's director, William Friedkin, that he didn't want the film to give victory to the demon.  This was such an important issue that, in 2000, Friedkin recut the film's ending to better clarify Blatty's point.  A priest, Father Karras (Jason Miller), ends up sacrificing his life to expel Pazuzu from the girl's body.


Poltergeist (1982), which features a tight-knit family named the Freelings, is a film about the love, intimacy and faithfulness of a family.  Spirits suddenly start to communicate with five-year-old daughter Carol Anne through the family's television set.  The spirits are under the control of a demon known as the "Beast."  As a result of their efforts, Carol Anne is sucked into an interdimensional portal that suddenly opens up in her closet.  The family must work together as passionately as they ever have to rescue the child.  The rescue in Poltergeist is a birth metaphor.  Standing directly outside the portal, the mother Diane (JoBeth Williams) exclaims, "She just moved through me.  My God!  I felt her."  She sounds like a pregnant mother who can feel her baby kick for the first time.



The couple reaffirms their wedding vows during the rescue. 



Once the child is extracted from the portal, mother and daughter pass out from exhaustion covered in an ectoplasmic goo clearly meant to resemble afterbirth.





The film ends with the family checking into a hotel room after their entire home has been sucked into the portal.  Dad (Craig T. Nelson) quickly unplugs the television and rolls it out onto the walkway outside the room.  He now understands that the demons come to get you through the television.


We learn in the sequel, Poltergeist II: The Other Side, that the demon had taken human form in the 19th century to lead a utopian cult.  He now sees a chance to return to Earth by possessing Carol Anne.


 Again, the family rallies to protect the girl.


The film's Dracula figure doesn't stand a chance against them.

 
The demon assumes a large monstrous form, but the future "Mr. Incredible" Nelson stabs the beast in the heart with a charmed Native American spear.   


The modern world is filled with dark men who mock the good messages of The Exorcist and Poltergeist.  We are wise to avoid dark men and their works.  One such dark man is Guillermo Del Toro, who is infatuated with satanic myths, occult symbolism and alchemy.  Del Toro indicated in his Oscar acceptance speech that he made a deal with a devil to become a filmmaker.  I have no reason to take this as a joke.  A person cannot surround himself with devil worship symbols for years and claim it's just an act.  At some point, the act becomes who you are.  A person devoted to throwing up devil signs is, in the end, a loyal marketer of Satan.


Del Toro said that he intended for Pan's Labyrinth to be "a truly profane film."  He said, "Some of my favorite writers (Borges, Blackwood, Machen, Dunsany) have explored the figure of the god Pan and the symbol of the labyrinth. These are things that I find very compelling and I am trying to mix them and play with them."  (Del Toro message board, Answers Archive, Nov. 24, 2004)



Pan is the pagan god of sexual fertility, lust, sexual deviance, rape and torture.  He is known for promoting sex orgies, bestiality and pedophilia.  He is the inspiration for the satyr devil.  The horns and cloven hooves of Satan, as depicted in much Christian literature and art, were taken directly from the images of Pan.  Pan enjoys brutally raping virgin maidens, leaving them with their minds destroyed.   

Del Toro said that a major influence of Pan's Labyrinth was Arthur Machen's 1890 novella "The Great God Pan," in which Pan impregnates a young woman to create the antichrist.  The heroes of the book catch up to the antichrist, a demonic woman named Helen Vaughan, and force her to hang herself.  Machen wrote:
Helen Vaughan did well to bind the cord about her neck and die, though the death was horrible.  The blackened face, the hideous form upon the bed, changing and melting before your eyes from woman to man, from man to beast, and from beast to worse than beast, all the strange horror that you witness, surprises me but little.
Yet, del Toro leads a young girl into the arms of this seducer and devastator of young girls.


The entrance into this strange new place is more elaborate and seductive than Carole Anne's closet.


We see a similar relationship between Pan and a young girl in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005).


The girl in Pan's Labyrinth has no one to protect her.  She lost her father before the story started and her mother is gravely ill (and eventually dies).  She is fatally shot at the end of the film and she is taken (or dreams she is taken) into a supernatural realm.

 
 

Fantasy novelist Kevin Hearne is a passionate defender of Pan, who he believes has been besmirched by Christian writers.  He noted:
Pan was unabashedly libidinous.  A survey of statuary and bas-relief sculpture conducted by Fiona Pitt-Kethley left no doubt of this.  In almost every instance she recorded, Pan’s manhood was fully aroused. . . Since Pan’s sexual nature was so evident, this might explain the Church’s readiness to hold up Pan as an example of profound moral turpitude.  "Sexual passion, which suspends reason and easily leads to excess, was alien. . . to the asceticism of the Christians; a god of sexuality could easily be assimilated to the principle of evil" (Russell 126).  Pan’s sexuality, when combined with his unwholesome visage, thus gave the ascetics exactly what they needed. . . Pan became the image of the devil.  Pan’s entire physique was so gruesome to behold that the Church could almost point to Pan and say, "This is what happens to the sexually immoral."

. . .

It is not difficult to see here how Pan’s rampant sexuality, so sinful to Christians, made him an ideal candidate for demonization.  This defamation of a once pastoral god was part of a vast campaign of religious propaganda designed to put the fear of the devil (where the fear of God didn’t seem to work) in the people’s hearts, for Christianity had several pantheons of old gods to conquer, and a personification of evil was efficacious in helping the process along.  Thanks to Christianity, Pan literally became the world’s biggest scapegoat.
Hearne added, "St. Augustine of Hippo. . . rails at length in his Confessions about the perils of sexuality.  He was the first to demonize Pan specifically for his sexuality (approximately 400 C.E.), going beyond the general Christian tendency to equate pagan deities with demons on general principle. . . Augustine's ideas were brought to America by the Puritans centuries later; they thought that the devil, horned and goat-footed, actually lived in the forest around Plymouth."

The Witch (2015), a film that clearly promotes devil worship, exploits the old New England lore that warns of evil supernatural beings that lurk in the woods.  The Pan myth is conveyed in the film when a young boy goes mad after being raped in the woods by a witch.  This is very similar to a scene in "The Great God Pan."


Annabelle: Creation is about death and sadism.  Orphan children are running loose throughout the film without a strong parental figure in sight.  The children's caretaker nun is useless.  She doesn't even look or act like a real nun.

 
Could a scene have been deleted showing that this is really a sorority sister on her way to a Halloween party?


A crucifix shows up in the film, but it does nothing to ward off the demon.  Dracula has the crucifix-wielding Professor Abraham Van Helsing to save the day while the man wielding a crucifix in Annabelle: Creation is brutally murdered within seconds.


To the makers of Annabelle: Creation, a crucifix is just a good design motif for marketing materials.


In the end, an orphan girl is abandoned by her negligent guardian to a demon.  No one comes forth to rescue her. Look at how isolated this young girl looks in this scene.


How about this scene?


The frightened girls have no loving mother to take them in her arms.  They simply go wandering through the film on their own.

 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 

Compare this to the imagery of Poltergeist.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Storytelling was created to empower man.  It was meant to provide guidance, encouragement, inspiration and clarity.  Today, storytelling is designed to confuse, frighten, corrupt and demoralize.  These days, mass media works to frighten people and make them see themselves as perpetual victims.  Why?  Because it is easy to control weak and frightened people.


This video for the Billie Eilish song "Bury a Friend," which has 47 million views, is dark, demonic and depressing.  What is the point of it if not to poison a person and make them feel weak?


Most people can tell you of a story about a horror film that traumatized them.  I found an interesting comment in an Internet forum.
When I was 10 years old, I saw a TV commercial for the film 'The Shining'.  It robbed me of sleep for a good month.  The commercial wasn't gory.  But the image of a father staggering after his own son with an axe in an otherwise serene snowfall was enough to make my brain implode at 10 years old.  It's a testament to the emotional and spiritual impact a short scene, or image can have on your heart and mind.

Advertisers now spend 5.25 million dollars to run a 30-second ad during super bowl.  They know the power and influence of cleverly crafted visuals and sound.  So what is the result when millions of people – especially young boys and girls – are bombarded with disturbing visual and musical messaging all day, every day? The media are literally traumatizing society all day long – and we call it "entertainment".
Ari Aster wrote and directed last year's biggest horror hit, Hereditary.  He said of the horror films that influenced him:
I remember that those films really just insinuated themselves into my consciousness and just didn’t let go.  And I hated them for it.  I really didn’t like it.  I saw them when I was too young. But. . . I guess when I started making [Hereditary], I was thinking about those.  I was thinking. . . I feel like there’s this dialogue that happens between an audience and a filmmaker.  And especially in horror films, it's like the audience is going in and saying, I dare you.  I dare you to scare me.  I'm going in, and I hope you do, 'cause that’s why I’m here.
Poltergeist is, at its core, a family drama.  So is Hereditary.  Aster said, "[E]verything that’s there is family drama stuff, which actually, I think makes it more punishing, but it also makes it more. . . [T]here was about an hour more of material that was not horror, that was just about the family going through what they’re going through, and not communicating, and not doing what they need to do to come together."  He said in another interview, "What do you do with the suspicion that you don’t really know the people you’re closest to?  What do you do with fear of abandonment?  The fear of somebody close to you changing?  The film is really feeding on those fears."  This is neurotic view of family, which can only come from a person who belonged to a deeply dysfunctional family. 

Aster said, "The beautiful thing about the horror genre or just genre filmmaking in general is that you can take personal material and you can just sort of push it through the genre filter and out comes a work of relative invention, right?  So I can say that the feelings that fueled the writing of the film were very personal and coming from personal experiences."  We get a fair idea what those personal experiences might have been after watching the film.  More on that later.

I cannot think of a film more demoralizing than Hereditary.  The following plot synopsis was provided in the film's marketing materials:
When the matriarch of the Graham family passes away, her daughter and grandchildren begin to unravel cryptic and increasingly terrifying secrets about their ancestry, trying to outrun the sinister fate they have inherited.
Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal called the film a "carnival of grief."  Peter Travers of Rolling Stone commended Hereditary for providing the viewer with a "bonechilling terror [they] won’t be able to shake."

Haleigh Foutch of Collider asked Aster, "Are you ready for people to hold you personally accountable for their trauma and nightmares?"  He replied, "Hey, I asked for it." 

A film that was a major influence on Aster was Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover (1989), in which a woman plots a macabre revenge against her vicious mobster husband for murdering her lover.  In the final scene, the woman has her lover's cooked body presented to the mobster.  He is appalled and is unable to comprehend the point of this act.  His wife forces him at gunpoint to eat a mouthful of the body before she shoots him in the head.  The scene resembles a satanic mass.  In the end, the mobster's blood is shed on a table that resembles a sacrificial altar.

 
 
 
 

Aster said, "[The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover] is made by somebody who I believe is an authentic misanthrope.  You can feel that [Greenaway] hates people.  He hasn’t even really given them personalities.  That’s how little he believes in people.  And then beyond that, he’s such an aesthete, that he’s putting aesthetics so far above people. . ."

He went into greater depth in another interview:
I saw The Cook, The Thief when I was very young, because my dad said that it scared him, and nothing scared him.  So my dad said I couldn’t see it.  I was like 12 or 13, and we’d go every Friday to rent movies.  And I remember pulling the videotape out of the box and putting it into Troop Beverly Hills or something. And I really regretted it. Whenever I would walk around in the dark at night, I would project those images onto the walls, of the lover’s body that looks like a roasted turkey. But a big part of it is the beauty of the film: there's a real ugliness to the content, to the cold eye he’s casting on all this stuff.  You have Michael Gambon as the thief and he's a repugnant person, but you don’t feel that Peter Greenaway has warmer feelings for Helen Mirren or the lover. . . [I]f anything you feel he has more affection for the thief simply because he’s more alive than they are.
Here, Aster supports my contention that a misanthropic filmmaker can suffuse a film with his bitter feelings and neurotic ideas and that the people who are to exposed to this ugly product will forever suffer trauma as a result.  Again, it is a poor bargain.  But Aster went even further.  He made an important point that, as a child, he was not adequately protected from this type of material.  Ugly material that is put out into the world reaches many, many people with no regard to age.  And, finally, Aster admitted that he identified mostly with the vicious mobster who, though terrible, is the most forceful and dominant character of the film.  It is always a demon's power, not his morals, that attract worshipers.

Hereditary opens with a funeral for Ellen Graham.  Her daughter, Annie, is deeply troubled by her mother's death.  Lindsey Romain of Thrilllist wrote:
In Annie's early grief counseling sessions, she recalls her family's troubled history.  Her mother was diagnosed with D.I.D. (dissociative identity disorder) and her brother was a paranoid schizophrenic who eventually took his own life. These disorders manifest in the next generation, too; after Charlie's death, Annie dovetails into mania, having middle-of-the-night episodes that feel like early symptoms of bipolar disorder, but also might be her mother's D.I.D. passed along, too.  She flips between moods the way a dissociative person might. . . In one scene, we catch a glimpse of an email her husband is drafting, which seems to indicate that Annie has had manic episodes in the past, and he's worried she might be having another one.  Peter's own descent into apparent self-harm and unexplained visions might symbolize the schizophrenia also present in his uncle.
We can see from these revelations that this is really a film about the genetic links that pass mental disorders from generation to generation. 

We learn during the course of the story that Ellen was the leader of a demon-worshipping cult and only had children to pay familial tithes to the demon.  At some point, she arranged for the demon, Paimon, to possess her 13-year-old granddaughter Charlie.  Charlie is only a temporary host as Paimon needs a male body to come to full power. 

Romain wrote:
What does Paimon actually represent?  The brilliance of Hereditary lies in metaphor, like all truly great horror films ultimately do.  It's clear from the beginning that Annie's family is cursed in some way, and obviously the name itself is a bit of an on-the-nose description of the evil we can inherit from our ancestors - genetically or spiritually.  The movie gets literal with the demon stuff, but it's all subtext for the real stigma plaguing them: mental illness.
Aster engaged in extensive research into actual devil cults to assure that the film was realistic.  He said, "I did do research into witchcraft and the occult.  It's something I had no ties to and I found the research pretty disturbing, to be honest.  But hopefully it does feel real. . . The idea of witches has always scared me because of the idea that there are Machiavellian forces out there that conspire to hurt others.  There are people who do not have your best interest at heart and are actively willing to do harm to you and actively sending energy in that direction."  Aster incriminates himself in these remarks as he, as a filmmaker, employs sneaky dramatic methods to traumatize people and send dark energies out into the world.


The film made Paimon so appealing that it inspired film critics to conduct further research into the demon and write articles that were essentially instructional essays for people interested in worshiping this master of evil.  Romain wrote:
Paimon first appeared in the anonymously written grimoire called "Lesser Key of Solomon," where he's called a great king, one of Lucifer's most obedient devotees, and a master of art and science.  In most lore, he is known for riding a camel, having an effeminate face, and for following a procession of demons playing instruments like cymbals and trumpets.  Solomon also states that Paimon is the ruler of 200 legions of spirits, most of them angels, and that to summon him, "thou must make him some offering."
 

The study of the St. James Bible brings us closer to God.  The study of Anton Lavey's Satanic Bible brings us closer to Satan.  Much like Hearne, film critics spoke favorably of Paimon and accused Christian writers of giving this pagan god a raw deal.  Tony Sokol of Den of Geek discussed the matter with Greg Bismarck, an Adept Initiate magician.  Bismarck said, "Paimon is a 'demon' only to those who demonize him."  Besmirching an ancient boner-brandishing pagan god is a bad thing now?


Aleister Crowley insisted that Paimon offers his followers great knowledge and that he promises many rewards will come from this knowledge.  In the words of the film's cult leader Joan (Ann Dowd), Paimon will "bring us honor, wealth and good familiars." Poltergeist told us that family protects us from demons.  Hereditary is the exact opposite.  It is about a mother who, through very deliberate action, sacrifices her off-spring to a demon.

Hereditary, apart from its evil themes, is bad storytelling.  Chris Evangelista of SlashFilm wrote:
Annie forces Alex [her 16-year-old son] to bring Charlie to a party, and at said party, Charlie consumes some chocolate cake with nuts in it.  Sounds harmless, right?  Wrong – Charlie is allergic to nuts, and her throat immediately begins to close up.  Panicked, Alex throws Charlie in the car and speeds down a dark highway towards a hospital.  In the backseat, Charlie, struggling for air, rolls down the window and sticks her head out.  As this happens, Alex swerves the car to avoid a dead deer in the road.  The car violently veers to the side of the road – and towards a telephone pole.  Charlie’s face slams into the telephone pole – the force powerful enough to rip her head clear off (cue loud, startled screams in the audience).
 
This pivotal event of the film, the death of Charlie, is contrived, nonsensical "idiot plot" stuff.  It makes no sense for the mother to force her teenage son to take his weirdo young sister to a hangout with his friends.  It makes no sense for a girl with a severe nut allergy to indiscriminately stuff food into her mouth.  It is obvious when nuts have been baked into a cake.  Did she bother for a moment to check?  It makes no sense for a girl with a severe nut allergy to leave her home without the medication she needs to take if she falls into anaphylactic shock.  It makes no sense for a girl suffering an allergy attack to stand up in the back of a car and stick her head so far outside the window that she can be decapitated by a telephone pole.  But Aster later explained that the events leading up to Charlie's decapitation were meant to look contrived because the cult was actually controlling everything that happened.  The cult is obsessed with decapitation, which they believe symbolizes a person's detachment from their ego.  Romain wrote:
[Charlie's] death appears to be the machination of either Paimon himself or the coven that desires him, as she is decapitated like the other women in her family eventually are. (Hereditary writer/director Ari Aster has confirmed that Charlie's death was, indeed, "designed by the cult.")
Does this mean that Paimon baked the cake?  Did he throw the deer into the road?  There has to have been an easier way for him to have worked this out. 

Romain continued, "After she's gone, Paimon targets Peter, ready for the male host he's been seeking all along."


The events of the film serve no other purpose than to lead the family to madness and their inevitable slaughter.  Evangelista wrote:
From here, Hereditary descends into a gleeful madness that I couldn’t help smile at (while also being creeped the hell out).  Alex is haunted by alarming visions, and Annie grows more and more unhinged. . . Oh, and Annie’s dead mother’s headless body is just chilling up in the attic.  Annie attempts to rid her family of the demonic forces plaguing them, but that backfires, badly.  Steve dies after going up in flames (literally), Annie becomes possessed and starts crawling up the walls in true Exorcistfashion, and Alex attempts to flee this house of hell, only to find more terrifying things awaiting him in seemingly every room.
Storytelling is about the protagonist.  It is the protagonist's motives, choices, actions and lessons that shape the story.  We judge a character and learn from the character based on his actions and the outcome of his actions.  But Aster discards all of that.  He said, "[T]he family has absolutely no agency. . . [T]hey’re dolls in a dollhouse being manipulated by outside forces.  Any control they try to seize is hopeless."  Annie tries to sacrifice herself to save her son.  He said, "[T]hat scene is meant to play as Annie’s big redemptive moment. . . It’s a beautiful gesture but part of the cruel logic of the film is it’s an empty gesture.  Ultimately, it’s not her choice to make.  She thinks there’s a design here and she can end things if she sacrifices herself.  But there’s no design and there are no rules.  There is a malicious logic at play."


Nick Allen of The Hollywood Reporter wrote:
In contrast to other contemporary films that use occult scenes as a type of nervous climax, Aster treats Peter's acceptance of Paimon as a rare moment of comfort. The boy no longer fears his [berserk possessed] mother, he has stopped crying, and he has a new family and home.  In the upside-down world of Hereditary, it's almost a happy ending.
Blatty would be unhappy to see a film that gives a demon a victory. 

I discussed in an earlier article the fact that the modern horror film has done away with the catharsis, which has always been a vital element of the horror story. Aster addressed this subject at length in two interviews. He said to The Dread Central:
The challenge in making a horror film, especially when you’re trying to do peripheral things, as I was with this, is that you do have to find the catharsis in whatever story you’re telling.  And so I imagine people who are enjoying the movie and having fun, are responding to the catharsis because that’s ultimately, that’s the major demand that a genre film makes on a film maker, is that you – if you’re setting smears up in the beginning, you have to set them off later.  And so this is a movie that has things that are resolved.  I'm hoping that there’s a certain amount of irresolution in the resolution.  I do see the film as being an existential horror film that that preys on fears that don’t have any remedy, because it’s just the way things are.  What do you do with a fear of death?  You either come to terms with it or you don't.
Christianity is not negligent in this area.  The Gospels teach us to accept death because, as Jesus said, "The one who believes in me will live, even though they die."

Aster said to Collider:
The goal is to meet the demands of the genre, and then to startle people a few times, but then let them off the hook.  And I have never felt that that’s really what the purpose of the genre is.  And when I think about the films that really affected me as a kid, they were the ones that left me in a place of not just irresolution, but also, I had to contend with not just what had happened in the film, but the themes of that film.
Jenelle Riley of Variety wrote:
While the film ends on a despondent note, with Peter’s body being possessed by Paimon, Aster says there’s another way to look at things.  "Ultimately, the film is ultimately a success story from the grandmother’s point of view and the coven’s point of view," he notes, admitting, "That’s a dark way to see it."
Plato warned that the consumers of tragic poems would imitate the poems' characters in their own lives.  He wrote, "[I]mitations. . . settle down into habits and (second) nature in the body, the speech, and the thought. . . We will not then allow our charges, whom we expect to prove good men, being men, to play [these] parts. . ."  Obvious imitation was evident soon after Hereditary was released. Charlie acts weirdly from the start, presumably because she's possessed by Paimon. Romain wrote:
That's why. . . she clucks her tongue, why she decapitates birds, why she makes her spooky art projects.
Fans of the film have been so taken with the strange, pigeon-decapitating, possessed girl's clucking that they, too, make clucking noises during the film.


Alfred Hitchcock insisted that films only have a momentary effect on the audience.  He said, "I suppose if one stood outside any movie house, most of the faces are either giggling or smiling even when they come out of a horror picture.  You don't see them coming out pondering deeply."  He insisted that films have a lasting effect when it comes to fashion choices and nothing more.  Yet, he said that he liked to hear The Birds gave people nightmares.  So, if he had his way, a person just didn't giggle exiting the theatre and leave the experience behind them.

Hitchcock likened himself to a mother saying "Boo!" to a three-month-old baby.  But Psycho is far more horrendous than a kindly mother's "Boo!" just as Hereditary is far more horrendous than the carefully refined frights of Psycho.  No one is giggling after the cruel and bloody cataclysm of Hereditary

Hitchcock admitted that he was after achieving mass hypnotism.  Take a look at this clip.



Hitchcock further admitted that he was not a moviegoer.  He also made the point that he never sat down with a fiction book.  He preferred to read biographies and travel books.  The effort of filmmakers and authors to unsettle people's emotions didn't appeal to the film director known for his Buddha-like calm.  He said, "I know we're only human, we do go in for these various emotions - call them 'negative emotions' - but, when all these are removed and you can look forward and the road is clear ahead, now you're going to create something.  I think that's as happy as I would ever want to be."  So, Hitchcock believed that we are wrong to relent to our natural desire for negative emotions (the "hunger" for heightened emotions described by Plato and Socrates) and he understood that we are happy and productive if we remove negative emotions from our lives.  Watching a film that gives us nightmares is not removing negative emotions from our lives.  The modern horror film does more than inspire nightmares.  It has a dark energy that we would do best to avoid.



Romain wrote multiple articles and multiple tweets on Hereditary.  In general, the writer is obsessed with films and television shows that celebrate the occult.  She writes a lot about American Horror Story.  She is one of many young people intoxicated by these works.  She accepts that this content harms her psyche, but she just doesn't care.  She tweeted, "HEREDITARY. . . moved me, devastated me, spoke directly to so many of my insecurities and fears as a woman and human being.  it's an ugly film, and i love it for that."

 

Strangely, she imagined the end of the film having a catharsis that it didn't have.  She wrote on her blog, Bright Wall/Dark Room:
It's bleak as hell, yes, but for someone who lives that reality, there's a catharsis as well.  It is always validating to be seen, even when a film reveals parts you wish you could expel.  It also serves as a lesson — a visual guide of what not to do.  Here is what happens when you let the darkness win.  It's made others sleep with the light on.  It made me call a therapist.
Romain is wrong, for a film about shock, torture and helplessness does not serve as a guide.  Aster has made it clear that the film's characters have no agency and he suggests at the same time that we have no agency.  The film is designed to deny us release from its horrors.  It wants its horrors to devastate and imprison us. 

Mental illness can be shared through genetics, but it can also be shared through mutual experiences and environmental factors.  We share the experiences of a character when we watch a film.  Our minds cannot necessarily disassociate from these experiences.  People often find cinematic experiences getting tangled up with real-life experiences.  A thin line divides fantasy and reality.  Like Aster once found himself projecting the image of Greenaway's roasted corpse onto walls, those who were unfortunate enough to see Hereditary will project images of decapitated corpses onto walls.  And, as this barrage of possessed-child, demon-victory films pervade our culture, we will find our culture being reshaped around us and we will wonder in the end how everything around us has become so ugly. 

It doesn't matter to me if Aster is a depraved neurotic or a gleeful Satanist.  A thin line divides the two.  But Hereditary has certainly been successful in sharing the filmmaker's ill thinking if Romain (like many others) left the theatre wanting to call her therapist. 


Reference sources


- "How the Catholic author of 'The Exorcist' saw good and evil," Catholic News Agency (January 13, 2017).  https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/how-the-catholic-author-of-the-exorcist-saw-good-and-evil-88270.

Nick Allen, "The Ending of 'Hereditary' Feels Inevitable," The Hollywood Reporter (June 12, 2018).  https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/heat-vision/hereditary-ending-paimon-explained-1119476.

Nicholas Barber, "Film Review: The Favourite," BBC (August 31, 2018).  http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20180831-film-review-the-favourite.

Todd Clark, "A Homeric Challenge: The Purpose and Meaning of the Poetry Critique in Book 10 of Plato’s Republic."  https://www.academia.edu/15863918/A_Homeric_Challenge_The_Purpose_and_Meaning_of_the_Poetry_Critique_in_Book_10_of_Plato_s_Republic.

Chris Evangelista, "Making Sense of the Terrifying 'Hereditary' Ending," SlashFilm (June 11, 2018).  https://www.slashfilm.com/the-hereditary-ending-explained/.

Raphael Foshay, "Mimesis in Plato’s Republic and Its Interpretation by Girard and Gans," Anthropoetics XV, no. 1 Fall 2009: GA Summer Conference Issue.  http://anthropoetics.ucla.edu/ap1501/1501foshay/.

Haleigh Foutch, "Ari Aster on ‘Hereditary’ and the 3-Hour Cut We Might Never See," Collider (June 10, 2018).  www.collider.com/hereditary-interview-ari-aster/. 

Kevin Hearne, "The Demonization of Pan," Mesa Community College (1998).  https://www.mesacc.edu/~thoqh49081/StudentPapers/pan.html.

Michael Koresky, "Interview: Ari Aster," Film Comment (May 1, 2018).  https://www.filmcomment.com/blog/interview-ari-aster/.

James Morgan, "Decoding the symbols on Satan's statue," BBC News, Washington DC (August 1, 2015).  https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-33682878.

Jenelle Riley, "‘Hereditary’ Filmmaker Ari Aster Answers Burning Questions (Spoilers)," Variety (June 11, 2018).  https://variety.com/2018/film/awards/hereditary-ari-aster-answers-burning-questions-1202841448/.

Lindsey Romain, "What You Need to Know About King Paimon in 'Hereditary,'" Thrilllist (June 8, 2018).  https://www.thrillist.com/entertainment/nation/hereditary-movie-king-paimon.

Lindsey Romain, "Hereditary and the Antipathy of Grief," Bright Wall/Dark Room (June 14, 2018).  https://www.brightwalldarkroom.com/2018/06/14/hereditary-and-the-antipathy-of-grief/.

Tony Sokol, "Hereditary: The Real Story of King Paimon," Den of Geek (October 21, 2018).  https://www.denofgeek.com/us/culture/hereditary/274189/hereditary-the-real-story-of-king-paimon.

Theodore Valentine, "Guillermo Del Toro Entertains with Beastiality," Lies of the Devil (August 31, 2017).  https://www.liesofthedevil.com/beastiality-in-the-shape-of-water-film-by-guillermo-del-toro/.

Chris Wallace, "David Cronenberg," Interview (October 15, 2014).  https://www.interviewmagazine.com/film/david-cronenberg.

Staci Layne Wilson, "HEREDITARY – Interview with Writer-Director Ari Aster and the Cast," The Dread Central (June 12, 2018).  https://www.dreadcentral.com/news/276164/hereditary-interview-with-writer-director-ari-aster-and-the-cast/.

Additional notes

Satanism is now out in the open in the fashion world and entertainment world.  Here are some of the photos used to market Celine Dion's new clothing line for children.