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Hereditary’s 7 Scariest Scenes (& 7 From Midsommar)

Hereditary's 7 Scariest Scenes (& 7 From Midsommar)


  • A. Aster’s movies explore grief and family dynamics effectively through great characters, showcasing his versatility as a filmmaker.
  • Scary scenes in both ‘Hereditary’ and ‘Midsommar’ make them memorable additions to the horror genre, loved by fans for their terror.
  • Aster’s masterful use of simple, yet terrifying moments like Annie and Peter drenched in lighter fluid, create memorable and impactful scenes.

With his first two movies as a feature director, Hereditary and Midsommar, Ari Aster has established himself as one of the sharpest new filmmakers to make their name in the horror genre. Alongside fellow newcomers like Jordan Peele and Robert Eggers, Aster has contributed to the new wave of critically acclaimed horror that emerged in the 2010s and the so-called elevated horror movement. Aster’s first movie, Hereditary, exemplified the fragility of the nuclear family by introducing one to a pagan cult, while his second, Midsommar, challenged The Wicker Man for the title of greatest folk horror movie.

Both movies have similarities in their explorations of grief and finding effective horror through great characters, while they are also different enough to showcase Aster’s versatility as a filmmaker. Beau is Afraid was a more divisive movie for him and his upcoming Western movie Eddington could be a change of pace, but Aster’s debut horror movies remain favorites among fans. While it can be debated which is the better film, both Hereditary and Midsommar have plenty of scary scenes that make them such memorable additions to the genre.


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The Scariest Scenes In Hereditary

Annie’s Mother Appears In The Corner Of the Room

Annie looking at a model of her mother in Hereditary

The opening of Hereditary is mostly filled with dramatic tension as opposed to the more graphic and directly horrifying imagery that comes later. The first moment that the audience truly begins to sense something supernaturally wrong is when Annie’s mother, who is revealed to have died just prior to the movie beginning, appears suddenly in the corner of the room after Annie finds an ominous note from her, giving the first clues to the Paimon storyline in Hereditary.

She’s barely visible when Annie looks at her, causing her to switch on the light in the room, causing her mother to instantly disappear. It’s a simple but very effective idea that sets the tone well. In the first few scenes in the movie, Aster was already beginning to establish the control Annie’s mother had in her life, so there is a real sense that she could be seeing things but it also leaves the audience on edge as to what else might be lurking in the corners.

Steve Instantly Catches Fire

Annie screaming at Steve's death in Hereditary

Once the supernatural elements of Hereditary have truly kicked into gear, there’s no slowing down and the movie’s scenes become progressively more shocking and horrifying until the credits roll. Steve’s death is by far one of the standout moments of the film not just for the frightening visual of him unexpectedly catching fire all over his body.

Steve is a rock in Annie’s life and, with him now gone, the audience knows that there’s nothing holding the horror at bay anymore. It is a moment of it feeling like this family is now truly lost and there is no hope. This is seemingly highlighted in the reaction of Annie whose face is a pained look of horror, grief, and disbelief only for the spirit to take her over and her face to suddenly become void of emotion.

Charlie’s Decapitation

Alex Wolff as Peter in the car in Hereditary

The trailers for Hereditary brilliantly misled viewers by introducing Charlie as the film’s lead character. No one was expecting the story’s shocking inciting incident. Peter is forced to take Charlie to a party, where he leaves her alone and she accidentally eats nuts and goes into anaphylactic shock. A panicked Peter, already prone to paranoia, rushes her into the car and drives into the night. She sticks her head out the window to get some air at the worst possible moment, as Peter swerves to avoid roadkill and takes off Charlie’s head on a telephone pole.

The moment is one of the most effective and shocking horror movie deaths in recent memory. Aster is able to combine relatable fear of Peter’s situation, filled with panic, and then hit the audience with a brutal moment that takes it into a new realm of terror. It is a brilliant moment that changes the direction of the movie while also terrifying viewers.

Annie And Peter Are Suddenly Covered In Lighter Fluid

Annie looking scared in Peter's bedroom in Hereditary.

Ari Aster is such a master of the horror genre that he uses a filmmaking technique as simple as shot reverse shot to create scares. When Annie is telling Peter that she attempted to miscarry him and he’s understandably very upset, the back-and-forth shots suddenly show the two characters drenched in lighter fluid. It is such a quick moment that the audience can barely register this sudden and terrifying escalation.

The moment is a callback to Annie confessing that she was sleepwalking once and doused her kids in paint thinner and was about to strike a match when she was woken up. It also foreshadows Steve’s death by burning and makes the audience question how much of the movie is actually taking place. Putting aside the demonic entity haunting them, this is a moment that reinforces how damaged this family is.

Peter Breaks His Own Nose

Alex Wolff as Peter looking distraught in a classroom in Hereditary

There have been many movies about demonic possessions, but few have depicted it as such a mentally destructive force as in Hereditary. However, one of the most unsettling scenes is when the possession takes a more violent approach to torturing Peter. As the demonic possession begins to take hold, Peter’s life becomes increasingly horrifying. Many of these haunting moments come as the poor teenager is in class and it builds to this unforgettable scene.

When Peter catches his reflection in a glass pane in his classroom, Paimon smiles at Peter with his own mouth. Then, out of nowhere, Peter slams his face against his desk, breaking his own nose. He reacts with terror as he realizes he’s losing control of his own motor functions. The fact that actor Alex Wolff actually made himself bleed for this scene makes it all the more impactful (via The Wrap).

Charlie Appears In Peter’s Bedroom

Peter sees Charlie's ghost at night in his bedroom in Hereditary

Despite the fact that Charlie dies early in the story, she still has a lasting impact throughout the rest of the movie. The trademark clicking noise she made with her tongue when she was alive can be heard by her family members after her death, causing much terror. However, she takes on a more physical appearance during this terrifying scene when Charlie appears in the corner of Peter’s bedroom in the middle of the night, surrounded by shadows.

It is reminiscent of the earlier scare of Annie’s mother standing in the dark corner. From one perspective, this apparition is perhaps just Paimon toying with Peter for fun, but it can also be seen as a projection of the guilt he feels over Charlie’s death, as her head rolls off onto the floor and transforms into a ball when it reaches the light in a seamless effect.

Paimon’s Followers Gather In The Tree House

A glowing light in the treehouse in Hereditary

The ending of Hereditary realizes the audience’s worst nightmares. The genius of the movie is that it heads toward a terrifying conclusion that is inevitable; nothing the characters do can prevent the unavoidable tragedy. Peter finds his dad’s corpse in the living room and gets chased to the attic by his possessed mother, where she floats in the air and decapitates herself, prompting him to jump out the window. He arises seemingly possessed by Paimon and joins his followers in the treehouse, where Charlie’s head is mounted ominously on a mannequin.

While there are plans for Ari Aster’s Hereditary 2, this ending is pitch-perfect, leaving the audience on a horrific and bleak note that the story was leading to the entire time. However, it does raise a lot of exciting questions about what comes next now that Paimon has found its human host.

The Scariest Scenes In Midsommar

The Opening Scene

Dani crying on the phone at the beginning of Midsommar

Horror movies often set their tone with an ominous scene that is sometimes only loosely connected to the main plot, sometimes showing the first kill from the slasher movie villain. While Ari Aster is quick to start the body count, Midsommar goes straight to the heart of the horror in its opening scene, showing Dani’s mounting anxiety, as she believes something is wrong due to a worrying message from her sister, and the early signs of Christian’s inability to be supportive enough in their relationship.

After the slowly moving camera movement throughout Dani’s parents’ home reveals their deaths, the scene cuts back to Dani wailing in a distant-looking Christian’s arms, setting the horror into motion. Like Hereditary, so much of Midsommar‘s story is about grief and this opening scene sets that up in an unforgettable way.

Dani’s Nightmare

Dani screaming in her nightmare in Midsommar

A lot of the scariest scenes in Midsommar stem from the passiveness of the characters, with Dani’s clear discomfort being dismissed by both herself and her supposed friends. This manifests into a frightening dream that Dani has about the group packing up and leaving her behind at the commune in the middle of the night. As they drive away in her dream, she attempts to yell out for them but only thick black smoke comes out of her mouth, mirroring her sister’s death.

This is another example of how effectively Aster is able to add relatable feelings of horror into these wilder horror stories. The feeling of abandonment and being left in a place of discomfort is something that everyone can relate to. However, Aster is able to make it not just about Dani being stranded at this strange Swedish festival in Midsommar, but also relate it back to her own trauma and overreaching themes of the movie.

Dani Sees Her Sister

Dani sees her sister in the mirror in Midsommar

On the way to the Hårga commune, Dani and the guys stop off to take psychedelic drugs. Dani is clearly not in the right headspace for the experience but her passiveness in the face of Christian’s continued unsupportiveness leads to her joining in anyway. When Dani is triggered by an offhand comment, she begins to have a bad trip.

Through Florence Pugh’s outstanding performance, the audience can see that everything around her begins to heighten her anxiety and, as she sequesters herself, she sees an apparition of her sister appears behind her. Just as Hereditary throws the audience off with Charlie letting her presence be known from beyond the grave, Midsommar shows that Dani cannot escape her trauma no matter how hard she tries and her sister’s presence continues to haunt her.

The Cliff Jump

Ylga prepares to jump off the cliff

Easily the most gruesome scene in Midsommar is when a couple of Hårga elders climb up to the top of a cliff to sacrifice themselves by jumping off. The first person to jump is killed instantly when she hits a rock below. The second person isn’t so lucky, as he lands on his feet and breaks his leg without actually dying. Another man has to finish him off by swinging a giant mallet into his head.

The collective outpouring from the commune members watching, empathizing and mimicking the man as he screams in pain, makes it a terrifying spectacle. The moment puts the audience in the same position as Dani and most of her friends as things just escalated to a shocking new level. One interesting aspect to look back on is that Josh (William Jackson Harper) seems to know what is coming, suggesting he learned about the community’s rituals beforehand.

Josh Sneaks Into The Temple

Josh on the floor of a barn in Midsommar

While they certainly don’t deserve the gruesome fates that befall them in the movie, Dani’s group aside from herself is made up of generally unlikable people. They are all self-involved in different ways with Jsoh showing he has no respect for the rules the community has laid out for its visitors. He was told he could research their customs and write about them, but he couldn’t take any pictures in their temple. Still, in the middle of the night, he sneaks into the temple and starts snapping pictures on his phone.

The audience realizes that a mallet-wielding cult member is standing behind Josh before he does, and the last thing he sees is a cultist wearing his missing friend’s skin. It is a haunting image to see and the first real confirmation that the visitors are being targeted and killed off one by one.

Christian Finds His Friends’ Bodies

Jack finds Simon's body in a barn in Midsommar

After being drugged and led into a mating ritual, Christian stumbles out of the temple, totally naked, which was apparently Jack Reynor’s own suggestion to subvert the horror genre’s long history of sexually humiliating female characters by doing so to a male character. As he wanders around the commune, Christian finds the corpses of all his missing friends. He finds Josh’s leg sticking out of a flowerbed, while Simon has been strung up and turned into a blood eagle.

Like the moment of Steve burning alive in Hereditary, there is a sense in this scene that the terror is now inescapable. The horrific plans the cult has for its visitors are no longer mere speculations. What makes the scene even more interesting to delve into is that there have been many theories that have arisen about what the Midsommar deaths mean.

Dani Chooses To Burn Christian Alive

Florence Pugh as Dani smiling while covered in flowers in Midsommar

At the end of Midsommar, Dani is crowned May Queen and paraded around the commune by her loyal followers. Meanwhile, Christian is captured, paralyzed, and stuffed into the skin of a brown bear. Dani is allowed to choose the final sacrifice: a random villager who’s more than willing to die, or her cheating boyfriend. She chooses the latter, her face void of emotion as she sentences him to a brutal death.

However, in the iconic final shot of the movie, Dani begins to smile for the first time since the deaths of her sister and parents as Christian is burned alive. It is one of the most discussed horror movie endings in recent memory with fans debating if Dani is really in control at this point, if she was just for what she did to Christian, and what her smile signifies. However, there is no doubt it is a chilling moment to end the movie on.

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