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Hereditary (review) certainly delivers the horror goods. It seems like the Graham family inherited a curse that only gets worse when their grandmother dies. However, the horror is really there to feed the drama of the family. You’ll be scared because you care about them.
“It was very important to me that this film function first as a vivid family drama before it even bothered attending any of the horror elements,” writer/director Ari Aster said.
“All I know is that I, as a viewer, am never affected by anything genre related unless I am first invested in the characters to whom the genre things are happening. I certainly wanted to make a film that was patient and that demanded a certain amount of patience from the audience and that took the time to really immerse you in their lives and in their dynamic and in really just the feeling of their home before shit gets crazy.”
Annie Graham (Toni Collette) goes to a grief support group and really tries to work through her issues with her mother. Her kids Peter (Alex Wolff) and Charlie (Milly Shapiro) are really suffering and Steve (Gabriel Byrne) is sort of burying his head in the sand.
“The trick is, how do I make a film that takes suffering seriously and is sensitive to the suffering that’s happening on screen, while also satisfying the demands of the genre?” Aster said. “Ultimately, how do I have those two things bolster each other? So my goal was always to make a film that served as a serious meditation on grief and trauma. I wanted to make a film about the corrosive effect that trauma can have on the family unit.”
Aster has faith in horror audiences to receive the family drama in a way that regular audiences would probably dismiss.
“If I made that film as a traditional drama, one, good luck finding financing for that,” Aster said. “And if you do find financing for that, good luck getting an audience in the theater and recouping budget, right? Then suddenly, what might serve as a deterrent for an audience in one genre, suddenly becomes a virtue in another genre. That’s the beauty of the horror genre, that you can smuggle in stories that would otherwise be too bleak or too difficult in another space. The trick is, how can I tell the story as honestly as possible and compromise as little as possible. With a film like this which is straddling a couple different genres and a few different subgenres and is aiming to do several different things at once, you’re not going to please everybody. Some people are going to feel that one area of the movie is shortchanged by the other but you can’t please everybody.”
Horror also allows Aster to take American family values to task in a way that Oscar-bait family dramas do not.
“I feel like there is a tendency among, let’s say, American family dramas, I think it’s part of the American exceptionalist tradition that you’ll typically have a family that suffers some crisis, some horrible loss,” Aster said. “There’s a harried period where things become tumultuous and communication breaks down and the family goes through a crisis, but then ultimately their bonds are strengthened. They’ve been brought closer together by the experience and everything will be okay. It’s a bittersweet ending, but that’s not always what happens. Sometimes people don’t recover from an experience. Sometimes people are taken down by it. Sometimes an entire family is taken down by it and I guess I wanted to make a film about that. I wanted to make a film that was very seriously about that.”
Hereditary is in theaters this weekend.