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Ari Aster‘s Hereditary is the horror film that everyone is talking about this year. Ever since the film premiered at Sundance back in January, reviews have been positively glowing. As of this writing, Hereditary is sitting at a mighty comfortable 100% on Rotten Tomatoes (with a 9.1/10 average rating) and an 89/100 score on Metacritic. I was nervous going into the film, but if my review out of SXSW didn’t give you any indication, I’m completely won over. I just saw the film for a second time last week and I’m happy to report that it is even better on a second viewing. I was fortunate enough to speak with Aster and actor Alex Wolff about the film’s origins and their feelings about the response the film will receive from mainstream audiences.
One of the most shocking things about Hereditary is the fact that it is directed by a first-time feature filmmaker. Though Aster got his start directing short films, Hereditary is his feature-length directorial debut, and it’s one of the most confident, assured debuts to come along in years. So how did Aster come up with the idea for Hereditary? Rather than come up with a plot, he actually came up with certain scenes and moments from the film first.
“There were a few images that I guess sparked it for me,” Aster told us. “One being an event that takes place 30 minutes into the film and from there, you know, you build a movie around those set pieces.”
I have no doubt that viewers will know the specific scene he is referring to when they see it (it’s quite shocking), but what may surprise viewers more than some of the more grotesque happenings in Hereditary is that the first half of the film is very much a drama. It’s not until the halfway point of the film that familiar horror tropes begin to emerge. Don’t get me wrong, Hereditary is a horror film through and through, but it takes a bit of time to get to the goods. Aster screened a few different films for the cast and crew to prepare them for the shoot, and the films he selected will probably give you an idea of the type of film you are in for.
“It was important to me that I catered to the family drama before I even concerned myself with the horror,” Aster said. “So on a lot of the films that we were watching, especially showing the crew, before production, were in the family drama space. So we watched a few films by Mike Leigh. We watched All or Nothing and I think Secrets and Lies. And I know that I had the crew watch 45 Years, which is a recent film by Andrew Haigh, which is incredible….kind of a bleak relationship drama but it’s really also just like a very nontraditional ghost story. And then we watched In the Bedroom, The Ice Storm.”
It’s no secret that expectations are sky-high for Hereditary, but will the film be able to connect with mainstream audiences like it has with critics? Or are their expectations too high? Over the past few years, critical darlings like It Follows, The Babadook and The Witch have been released to rather tepid reactions from audiences. Will Hereditary fall prey to the same phenomenon? Wolff quickly jumped to the film’s defense when I brought up this subject.
“I think that audiences are much smarter than the studios give them credit for,” he said. “Every single moment in Hereditary is linked to a moment in the end for the payoff. I think it has the ability of captivating people the same way that Manchester By the Sea did. It has that audience because it’s so wrapped in human drama. And I think it’s way more terrifying than any of the horror movies that I’ve seen. I really have zero concern. I think people are going to be upset by it and disturbed by it. I think there was a phase when people were excited for these jump scares, like when Saw first came out. But I think that right now, this is the kind of movie that I think people will be really excited about it.”
Aster agreed and admitted that less patient viewers will likely find his film to be somewhat frustrating:
“The film does demand patience. It does take its time. And I hope that it rewards patience, or at least I hope that it rewards the patience of the audience. But yeah, the film is very specific. It’s a very bleak film. It’s rooted in very, very, ugly emotions. And it’s designed to bother you. I think it’s inevitable that there are going to be people who hate the film and that’s great.”