A lot has been said about how scary Hereditary is. It’s been called “the scariest film ever” and “pure emotional terrorism.” There have been reports of people crying in theaters, and one of its actors says that filming it gave him PTSD.
But it was hard for me to feel even a hint of terror while watching it, because they elected to structure huge amounts of the movie around the Alyssa Edwards tongue pop sound.
If you’re unfamiliar, Alyssa Edwards is a drag queen who appeared on two seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Her signature catchphrase (if a sound can be a catchphrase) is a tongue pop, as seen above.
Via Alyssa, the pop has crossed over into fairly mainstream queer usage. It has a variety of meanings, but is generally used to emphasize something, dismiss another person, or act as an exclamation point.
This type of tongue popping was in use before Alyssa, but there’s no denying the sound has become synonymous with her. If you google "tongue pop," she dominates the results. There’s Alyssa Edwards tongue pop merch, and she even released a novelty Christmas song called “Tongue Pop the Halls.”
Sure, the tongue pops in Hereditary aren’t as intense as Alyssa’s. They're more tongue clicks than tongue pops. But that doesn’t mean it sounded any less silly when they got lobbed out of the shadows at a weeping Toni Collette. To me, it was as about as scary as if the ghost thingie had been yelling “WHASSSSSAAAAAAAP” or, “I’m Rick James, bitch.”
I'm going to go out on a limb and say that most of Heretidary's audience didn't notice this weird sound coincidence, but for those of us who did, it took away a lot of the atmosphere:
“That’s all I could think of while watching it,” said film critic Tanner Tafelski, who told me he did not find the film scary, of the tongue popping in Hereditary. “I think that’s part of the reason. But I think the other part is all I could think of is… what film [the director] is referencing. It’s just very much not an original style or original movie. It was a combination of those two things.”
It’s certainly not the first time a term widely used by drag queens has been coopted by the straights. Yaas, okurrrr, hieeeeee, shady, tea, serving realness, gives me life, work, and gagging have all made the crossover from drag queens to the mainstream (though there's some debate as to where these terms actually originated).
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.