Spoilers ahead for Hereditary. Out of all of the scenes from the scariest movie of the year, one stands out in audiences' minds more than others. Hereditary, the Toni Collette-starring horror movie, has a lot of freaky moments, but the most disturbing Hereditary scene is, hands down, the car scene. You know the one — it's when Peter (Alex Wolff) accidentally decapitates his younger sister, Charlie (Milly Shapiro). While that's incredibly upsetting on its own, part of what makes the scene so disturbing is that it doesn't blatantly have anything to do with regular horror motifs.
There's no demon that jumps on the car, and there's no serial killer chasing after them. All that happens in the scene is something scary but real: a teen boy driving his little sister to get help after she accidentally eats peanuts, which triggers an allergic reaction. As Charlie gasps for air after going into anaphylactic shock, she writhes in the backseat as Peter speeds down a rural road hoping desperately to make it to the hospital on time. It's the kind of horrific, but realistic situation that could absolutely occur in actual life.
As could, unfortunately, what happens next. An animal jumps in front of the car right as Charlie has put her head out of the window to try to get more air into her lungs. When Peter veers the car quickly to avoid the animal, Charlie's head hits a utility pole and she's instantly decapitated. After the moment when you hear Charlie's head break off (yup, you hear it), the scene becomes instantly quiet. Peter drives home, and when he arrives he sits in the car for a minute, knowing that his sister's headless body is in the backseat. The way that he stares ahead, totally in shock, feels so disturbingly real that it doesn't even seem like something out of a movie, let alone a horror flick.
If you've seen the movie, just thinking about that whole sequence probably still makes your stomach churn. Yes, there are many other disturbing scenes in Hereditary that are more typical of the horror genre — later in the movie, viewers realize that Charlie's death is part of a demonic plan — but the car scene stands out because of how human it is. It feels like a shocking freak accident that could happen to anyone.
And the fact that that the car scene happens so early on in the film makes it even more upsetting. In an interview with Vulture, Hereditary's director/writer Ari Aster explained that he'd hoped that the scene would take audiences by surprise. "I know that I, as a spectator, am always hoping for that from a movie,” Aster told Vulture about the element of shock. “For that moment that tells me that I am no longer in control of this experience and I am in a filmmaker’s hands, because I know that I personally am very tired of going to films and knowing how they’re going to go and then having that feeling validated.”
Aster certainly succeeds in giving his Hereditary audiences a sense of helplessness, as well as shock. After all, Charlie at first seems like a character who will remain in the movie throughout its entirety, considering she's part of the central family. It's a major surprise that she does, especially in the disturbing way it happens. In a different interview with Vulture, Aster explained that that's exactly what he was going for. "I was very aware that we were making a film with the primary intention of upsetting the audience on a deep level," the filmmaker said. Well, mission accomplished.