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Top 10 Scariest Scenes in Hereditary

VO: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Nick Spake

Now, whenever we hear somebody click their tongue, we’ll associate it with impending doom. From sleepwalking to decapitation, WatchMojo is counting down the scenes that exemplify why “Hereditary” is one of the creepiest movies of the 21st century.


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Script written by Nick Spake

Top 10 Scariest Scenes in Hereditary

Now, whenever we hear somebody click their tongue, we’ll associate it with impending doom. Welcome to and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Scariest Scenes in Hereditary.

For this list, we’re taking a look at all the scenes that exemplify why “Hereditary” is one of the creepiest movies of the 21st century. In case you haven’t seen the film yet, consider this your spoiler alert.

#10: Peter Breaks His Nose

Much of the horror in “Hereditary” is based on slow-building tension and subtle details. This makes it especially shocking when the film catches us off-guard with imagery that’s more graphic and . . . on the nose. After Annie stumbles upon her mother’s rotting corpse in the attic, Peter’s sanity begins to unravel in class. Out of nowhere, he starts hearing the deceased Charlie clicking her tongue. Each tongue click is like a hand on a clock counting down to something dreadful. Even then, the audience is completely unprepared as Peter is taken over like a marionette puppet and slams his face onto his desk. It’s a scene that beats both Peter and the viewer over the head.

#9: Annie Sleepwalks

When we first meet Annie, she seems like an average mother doing her best. It becomes clear that something much darker is lurking inside her, however, when she recounts a sleepwalking incident. Annie reveals that one time she woke up standing over her children draped in paint thinner with a lit match ready to ignite them. Later on, Annie follows a trail of bugs into Peter’s bedroom and tells her son that she tried to miscarry him while pregnant. Surprised by her own hateful words, Annie expresses regret, but her relationship with Peter has already gone, well, up in flames. Although it’s suggested this was all a dream, that doesn’t make the scene any less unsettling.

#8: Ellen Appears

Annie offers a glimpse into the complicated relationship she shared with her mother while delivering Ellen’s eulogy. Even in death, Ellen manages to get inside her daughter’s head, both literally and figuratively. Early on, we’re treated to the movie’s first major scare as Annie looks over her late mother’s note and subsequently sees Ellen in her workroom. While brief, this moment perfectly sets the movie’s haunting tone, preparing the audience for a gradual descent into madness. The scene is given more context when Annie tells a grief support group that mental illness runs in her family. Did Annie just imagine her mother or could something supernatural be afoot? Either way, we’re on pins and needles.

#7: Burning Man

Poor Steve. As his family is riddled with death and trauma, Annie’s husband is the one person who keeps it together, most likely because he’s a psychiatrist. Suspecting that Annie dug up her mother’s grave, Steve is convinced that she’s cracked. His diagnosis is only strengthened when Annie tells him to burn Charlie’s sketchbook to end this nightmare. When Steve refuses, Annie chucks the book into the fireplace, thinking that she’ll sacrifice herself in the process. To everyone’s horror, however, Steve is the one who’s engulfed in flames. Huh, we never expected to see Gabriel Byrne actually burning! In addition to being jaw-dropping, this scene establishes once and for all that Annie’s not just insane.

#6: Annie Lashes out at Peter

Annie and Peter both feel responsible for what happened to Charlie, as one made her attend a party where she went into anaphylactic shock and the other was supposed to look after her. The tension between these two is kept bottled up until one explosive dinner. As Peter pushes his mother to stop repressing her feelings, Annie unleashes a tirade of anger, grief, and disappointment. It’s a genuine powerhouse moment with Toni Collette giving what might be the performance of her career. Fanning the flames of misery, Peter doesn’t hesitate to bring up that Annie also contributed to Charlie’s death. Stuck in the middle of this hostile argument, we can really identify with Steve here.

#5: Peter Sees Charlie

After Charlie meets her gruesome demise, Peter can’t bring himself to look at her dead body. Peter is unable to escape his sister, though, as she begins haunting him in his room after dark. This ties back into Annie seeing her late mother, which means one of two things: either spirits are prowling throughout the house, or Peter has inherited the mental illness that’s plagued his family for generations. No matter how you interpret it, Peter is forced to confront all of the guilt he feels over Charlie’s death. Peter can never look away from what he’s done, as much as he may want to. Nobody will sleep easily after watching this scene.

#4: Annie Stalks Peter

In a market oversaturated with jump scares, “Hereditary” motivates the viewer to focus less on what’s happening in the foreground and look closer at what’s hiding in the background. Nowhere is this better exemplified than when Peter stumbles upon his father burnt to a crisp while a possessed Annie lingers on the ceiling. Rather than popping out at us, Annie practically blends into the scenery and almost slips past our radars. After forcing the audience to the edge of suspense, Annie finally emerges from the shadows and chases after her son. Peter flees up into the attic and shuts his mother out. But not for long.

#3: The Smiling Man

Just when you thought this movie couldn’t get any more unpredictable, Peter encounters a naked man standing in a dark closet with a ghastly smile on his face. This eerie moment goes by so quickly that the audience isn’t even given time to ask, “WTF?” Peter’s confronted by even more naked strangers in the attic, prompting him to jump out a window. Matters only get crazier as a bright light enters Peter and he’s guided into a treehouse where a nude coven identifies him as the demon Paimon. This disturbing ending comes complete with Charlie’s severed head planted on a mannequin while the decapitated bodies of Annie and Ellen bow to the king of evil.

#2: Charlie’s Decapitation

Charlie sent a shiver up our spines from the moment she first bit into a chocolate bar, leading us to believe that she’d be the film’s central character. This makes it all the more staggering when Charlie sticks her head out the car window while having an allergic reaction, accidentally getting decapitated via telephone pole. The camera zooms in on Peter’s distressed face for almost a minute, as both he and the audience try to comprehend what just happened. Wearing a look of denial, Peter drives home and crawls into bed. Peter has to accept his sister’s fate the following morning, though, when Annie discovers Charlie’s body and we see her head covered in ants.

#1: Annie's Decapitation

You wouldn’t think anything would be able to top Charlie’s severed head. In its climax, though, “Hereditary” ups the fear factor with a decapitation that’s even more brutal and painful to watch. Looking over imagery left behind by his grandmother’s cult, Peter comes across the most jarring sight of all, as Annie – levitating above – gradually cuts her head off with a piano wire. Everything, from the petrifying visuals to Colin Stetson’s unnerving musical score, is pure nightmare fuel. If we had to single out one moment that defines why “Hereditary” is a modern horror masterpiece, it would have to be this shot, which will be forever burned into our minds.


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