Since its premiere at Sundance, Hereditary (review) has received rave reviews and gotten credit for putting the fear of cinema back in movie audiences. And it was certainly writer/director Ari Aster’s goal to put the audience through a grueling experience.
“I always knew I was making a very potentially alienating film,” Aster told us. “The film’s primary aim has always been to upset audiences on a very deep level. So if anything, I’ve been very surprised but a part of me is anxious to see how widely the film has been embraced so far. Knock on wood, it hasn’t been released yet.”
In Hereditary, a grieving family begins to experience further and further troubles, veering into supernatural terrors. However, some of the Hereditary hype may be misleading viewers as to what type of scary it is.
“The film ultimately is not an update on The Exorcist,” Aster said. “I feel I’ve already heard people who walked out of the film saying, ‘That’s nothing like The Exorcist’ and I never said it was. It’s wonderful to have so many people receiving the film so enthusiastically. The problem with any hyperbole is that people come in with expectations that are maybe impossible to meet. I just hope that people come in with reasonable expectations and that they watch the film for what it is.
“If anything, I would say to audiences is the film probably has more in common with something like Rosemary’s Baby than with The Exorcist.”
The events that befall the Graham family are so intense that Annie (Toni Collette) begins to unravel, and her son Peter (Alex Wolff) basically freaks the fuck out. The audience should hopefully share their experiences, though some of the actors could turn it on and off.
“Toni is an extremely disciplined actress who turns it on and off,” Aster revealed. “So between action and cut she dives headlong into the part for whatever the scene requires. After cut and before action, she is Toni.”
That said, what you are seeing Wolff go through may be more real than you think.
“Alex is more method,” Aster said. “He essentially was Peter for two months and he was in a very dark place for a long time. He really gives it everything. I was certainly grateful for it on set because there’s nothing worse than someone playing PTSD. Peter is a character who was suffering PTSD. Alex actually went there. It really felt like Alex was wrestling with some very deep existential stuff.”
Hereditary does feature some good old fashioned jump scares, but as few as possible.
“I mean, there are a couple but I tried to avoid them wherever I could,” Aster said.
“The jump scares that are in there were ultimately just jump scares that I couldn’t avoid. They were necessary.”
The horror comes more from the escalating psychological trauma the Grahams endure, some of which is caused by disturbing imagery. One of those violent scenes is so intense it feels like a miracle it made it past the MPAA. Aster said he got no pushback on it.
“I kind of figured that was the money shot,” Aster said. “I was never really worried about that not making it into the film and ultimately nobody challenged me on it. There’s somehow no conversations with the MPAA with this one. At least if there were, I wasn’t involved with them.”
Hereditary is in theaters Friday.