This may not be a very popular opinion about this movie, but by the end of it, I was kinda pissed.
I had such high hopes for this movie, especially after all the hype surrounding it; Instead I ended up extremely frustrated by the second half of this film, and ultimately sideswiped by the ending.
There have been comparisons made of this movie to Rosemary’s Baby… Nope! Rosemary’s Baby was a consistent buildup of characters, their relationships and their motives from the very beginning of the film to the very end. This was nothing like that.
We begin at a funeral, where the mother of the family (Annie) is giving a eulogy about the grandmother (Ellen), who you obviously get the feeling was a raging bitch and extremely estranged from the entire family. Note that both Annie and Ellen are wearing a necklace that has a funky symbol on it (we’ll get back to that later).
Annie’s daughter Charlie is sitting in the front row, drawing… shitty drawings. This girl has no talent for someone who’s supposed to be centuries old… but I’m getting ahead of myself. This girl is jacked from the very beginning, obviously. For starters, at the wake, she’s eating a fucking candy bar while staring at her dead grandmother, like, meh… Also, she looks back through the line at the creepy blonde guy who’s wearing a rictus grin and finds absolutely nothing odd about this.
Note that later on, Annie’s husband, Steve, receives a call that Ellen’s body has been dug up. We’re not going to tell Annie, though. She’s been through enough trauma, right?
Back to Charlie. She’s at school, and a bird slams into the window of the classroom. Charlie takes a pair of scissors from the teacher’s desk, goes out to the bush on which the dead bird is laying, and calmly snips it’s head off, surreptitiously putting it in her pocket to save for some later project because…reasons. (By the way, what are all these shitty dolls she’s making all the time? Not a damn thing she’s creating from the spoils of a dumpster-diving ceremony looks either useful, or decorative -(We’ll get back to “making things”). She also makes this weird “click” noise, which I understand using as a devise so that later on, when you hear the clicking noise, you know who made it. click click! (We’ll get back to that as well). And, we make sure later on at dinner that the audience knows she has a peanut allergy. (Foreshadowing, mwah ha ha ha!)
The son, Peter, is a dorky pot-head who just wants to toke up. He also has a kind of a stalk-ery thing going for the girl that sits in front of him in a class at school. He asks mom if he can go to a party, and she (for some reason un-known to any other mother in the world who isn’t jacked up on meth) tells him, sure, but take your little sister. Because this is never a bad idea.
Cut to the party. Cut to one of the girls chopping walnuts (remember that nut allergy?) Oh yeah. Have a piece of cake, Charlie! No worries! Peter’s toking it up yet again at the friend’s house and Charlie enters the bedroom looking like a walking bee-sting; Peter freaks out. Stoned, he decides the best course of action is to drive 90 miles an hour down a dark highway to get her to the hospital ASAP.
Now, I have to give the movie props on this one point. Charlie is now hanging out the back right window in full-on shock mode, trying to breathe. I figure she’s going to fall out of the fucking car, beings it’s going top speed. Nope! At the last minute Peter sees a deer carcass in the middle the road and swerves to miss it, thus heading straight towards a pole (note the funky symbol etched into it) that TAKES CHARLIE’S FUCKING HEAD OFF!! Okay, that is the one thing I didn’t see coming because I was sure she was going to fall out of the car.
Peter rolls to a stop. Is this real? Did his sister’s head just pop off like the cork from a champagne bottle? Maybe it didn’t. Maybe he’s so stoned this is all a bad dream. He looks in the back seat. Yep. Charlie’s body is still sitting there. Headless it would seem. What does Peter do? He drives home, goes up to his bedroom and goes to sleep, because…again…reasons.
Next day, Annie bebops out to the family truckster to run an errand and receives a hell of a wakeup call upon finding the dead body of her daughter just chilling in the backseat. Cut to gory, ant-covered head. Noice. Also, maybe it never bothered anyone else, but there was not a big hairy, ball-to-the-wall, knock-down, drag out fight between parents and Peter about his decapitating his little sister and nonchalantly leaving her in the back of the car like an empty Happy Meal. There is a slight reference later on in the movie where they dance around the subject during dinner, but that’s pretty much it.
Now, after the second funeral in a week, Annie goes back to the building she went to the first time she did her soliloquy for the cult members (er… I mean group therapy members – we’ll get back to them), only she decides not to go in to vent about her daughter the same way she vented about her mother. As she’s driving away, Joan pops up. Here comes this extremely helpful woman who gets her fingernails into Annie by relating a similar story of the death of her own child. She is nothing but good and helpful, and you don’t get even the slightest vibe of evil from her at all. Why would she have an ulterior motive?
Another day or so we find Annie at a store getting supplies for her job, when she meets up with Joan again. Joan tells Annie all about a séance she did to talk to her son. Annie joins her for a walkthrough, and even when Joan does the séance, she still is nothing but eager and trying to help Annie; There’s still nothing sinister about her motives. No long pull-back from her face, showing a smile melting into a frown or sneer, thus giving you a hint to her motives. Okay, we’ll get back to Joan.
Annie goes home. Takes Charlie’s sketchbook of crappy drawings, and tries to burn it by throwing it in the fire. Now, her arm catches on fire. She digs the book out of the fire and puts her arm out. Sure, why not? Let’s go ahead and do a séance. She does. Thinks “Charlie’s back.” Nooooooot necessarily. She wakes her hubby and son to join her in the fun. Neither of them want to take part in this. (I can’t imagine why) She’s already lit the candle and read the hybrid language, so let’s try again. She apparently thinks she’s missed a step and goes to Joan’s to talk to her. Joan’s not home, so Annie leaves, but that doesn’t keep the audience from gaining access into Joan’s apartment and noting that it looks like a page out of a Pier One catalog for the Satanic Ritual Must-Haves of the Season! As always, thousands of burning candles and… drapes galore. Always an awesome combo, and an insurance salesman’s nightmare.
Meanwhile, what’s good old Petey been up to? Oh! He’s sitting outside at school at lunch and Joan (who we now know is a nut-bag occultist because Annie found an album of Ellen’s showing that she and Joan used to sing Kumbaya together while braiding each other’s hair. Also, that Ellen was “Queen Leigh” and worshipped King Paimon, the ninth demon named of the Lesser Key of Solomon. Now is the time to brush up on your Mesopotamian demon lore. Where was I going with this?) is now yelling at him across traffic, chanting the hybrid gibberish that no one else can hear.
Next, he’s in class. Grins at himself in the reflection of a glass pane. Then, he begins to hang himself without an actual rope. Mad props for this as well. He slams his face into the desk and then snaps out of it. School calls home. No one can get ahold of mom, so Steve gets the call and picks up Peter at the school and drives his son – to the hospital?! NO!!! Directly home. Why would he want to take his son immediately to get medical care after some weird shit like that? Well, he went home and right to bed after inadvertently killing his little sister, so, maybe he just needs a nap?
Later on that day (I think – it’s really exhausting trying to remember all this shit.) Annie begs her husband to throw Charlie’s sketchbook into the fire because if she does it she’ll burn to death, and she doesn’t want to. Apparently she doesn’t give a shit if her husband burns to death though. Sketchbook goes in fire. Hubby catches fire, a la flambé. I’ve skipped some things here such as they found the body of her mother in the attic and Annie’s hubby thinks that Annie’s gone bat-shit, dug up her mother and stashed her in the attic. You know, the phone call about Ellen’s body being dug up?
Christ! Have we reached intermission yet? There isn’t one?! Oh, sweet baby Jesus… back at it then.
After Steve’s body is a crispy piece of bacon, frying on the ground in the living room, Peter wakes up. Creepy view of Annie hovering above him in the corner of his bedroom. Kind of, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Mother. Then she just kind of swiftly swims/crawls out of the bedroom. Peter goes downstairs. Sees dad. Again, Annie being a helicopter mom, but not in the concerned about your kid way. Peter then sees some naked middle-aged people in the house. Holy fuck! No one wants to see that shit! Run, Peter. Run!
He goes up into the attic. Creepy ass Annie is trying to get in and is beating at the door with her head like a fucking hummingbird trying to get in at that sweet, sweet nectar! He sees the headless body and then more middle-aged people come out at him from the shadows. Fuck this shit! thinks Peter, and out the window he goes.
Thump. He’s dead. Paimon can now enter his body/vessel and does. Who the fuck is Paimon? Oh, yeah. By the way… This entire movie exists only as a vehicle for a demon named King Paimon to inhabit the body of Peter Graham. What? You’ve never heard of King Paimon? Look it up, like I had to because no one’s ever fucking heard of him!
I understand that Ari Aster didn’t want to do another movie about satan, so he read up on some esoteric Mesopotamian demon. Yep, you sure fooled me! Rather than giving enough clues throughout the whole movie rather than waiting until the very end where you find out that Charlie was Paimon the whole time and was in a lesser vehicle (inhabiting a female form when a male form was preferred) and thus had to bring about the destruction of Charlie’s body (hence the symbols used by the cult – and seen on the pole that kills Charlie). Then you have to go back and look at all the clues you’ve seen throughout the movie. But not in the good way, like in The Sixth Sense, where you’re like, OH SHIT!! How the fuck did I miss that? No, instead, I was like, okaaaaaayy, I gueeeeessssss.
By the time he follows his mother’s decapitated body (she had cut off her own head using piano wire – much like I wanted to do to myself by the end of this movie) to the tree house that Charlie used to hang out in, I was about half past give-a-shit. Hail Paimon, naked middle aged weirdo’s dancing around in a tree house. Charlie’s head mounted on a fucking mannequin. And now the cheesiest cartoonist looking crown is placed on Peter’s (Charlie’s/Paimon’s) head, and thank God it’s over.
So, now you get to reflect upon all the clues: Charlie saying, “she (grandma) wanted me to be a boy” and all sorts of other tells. The funky symbols. The clicking noise (If you research Paimon he supposedly made a similar noise, however, Paimon apparently translates to tinkling bell seems to be more likely, but a tinkling bell would definitely be a more difficult sound to make, and not nearly as creepy as the clicking sound.) He also is able to raise the dead, know the future and make things appear.
I would ask why they didn’t just start with putting Paimon in Peter to begin with. I know, I know. There wouldn’t have been a movie. More’s the pity. For me, though, the way the movie ended reminds me of the speech Truman Capote gives at the end of Murder By Death about making the clues so convoluted that no one could possibly find out what the hell was going on until the last page of the book, and having it spelled out for you.
I realize there’s the fact that everyone in the family is crazy in their own cute little way, and that there’s a parallel between possession and Dissociative Identity Disorder, etc. By the end, though, I was just fucking exhausted and felt like I’d been swindled.
Having said all this, I still love Toni Collette! You know? Especially in United States of Tara… Wait… Holy shit!!