New horror film Hereditary is taking the genre to new heights so get ready to be frightened by the nightmares to come.
Being described as possibly the most terrifying film since The Exorcist, Hereditary follows the Graham family as they descend into hell attempting to outrun the sinister fate they appear to have inherited.
UNILAD spoke to Ari Aster to learn more about his haunting directorial debut which is leaving audiences petrified.
UNILAD: So the film is loosely inspired by your family’s own experiences with grief. How does this influence the movie?
Ari: What’s nice about the horror genre is that it sort of functions as a filter through which you can push personal things and out comes something else. So you aren’t putting it on a slab in the way that I would be if I was dramatising something explicitly.
So it is loosely inspired by experiences but ultimately that gave way to something which was entirely inventive. The feelings in the movie are personal so the film is fuelled by this. Everything in the film sort of serves to follow in that direction.
UNILAD: Of course the film has gone on to be a massive success among critics. At Sundance people on social media were even saying they were left screaming and crying. What do you think of this? Is it mission accomplished?
Ari: Sure, yeah. Well in some ways I set out to make a film that was alienating and upsets people on a very deep level because I feel like if you are going to make a film about grief and trauma you should put the audience into as many of the positions of the characters as you can.
And if anything I have been surprised by how warmly it has been embraced and it seems to be satisfying people’s demands as far as the genre is concerned.
Ari: I think part of the beauty of what has happened with the film is that I didn’t really set out in a cynical way to produce this extremely potent work of horror.
I wanted to make a film about people who are suffering in a way that really honoured their feelings by ultimately being as big, as extreme and as grotesque as the feelings they are experiencing and the horror genre allowed me a certain license there to do that without putting off 90 per cent of the audience as they are ultimately there for a film of extremes.
If I did this as a straight drama I would have put off so much of the audience. But with horror people are there almost for like a dare – how scary is this going to be? It allows a filmmaker to really get away with stuff that other genres wouldn’t really accommodate.
UNILAD: So as you said it’s an intense film. What was the atmosphere like on set?
Ari: At times it was very tense. It wasn’t really a set where everybody was laughing. We all got along and it was fun at times but for me shooting a film is very stressful.
You only have so much time and shooting a film like this is very ambitious. The original cut was three hours; we had 156 scenes to shoot in about 30 days which means there are days where you are shooting like 10 scenes in 12 hours.
And so if anything you are just racing to get everything done! You are flying blind at a certain point and just leaning on your plans.
UNILAD: It sounds really tough…
Ari: It is very tough! I mean I don’t like shooting. It’s fun because you are doing it and, especially if it’s your first film as it was for me, the payoff is very cathartic to finally be there doing it.
It is not a creative time. Pre-production is the creative time when you build everything and envision it. When you are shooting you are executing it.
The stress is great and you know the joy comes in getting it. When you see it on the monitor and you realise you have it, you have a huge feeling of relief.
And then if you feel you didn’t get it the way you wanted it, that can stay with you for two days and it can really f*** up your momentum. You are doing this scene but you are stuck on that scene as you can’t move on.
UNILAD: So it is really terrifying for us to watch it. Were there any moments which spooked you out on set?
Ari: Well no. All the scary stuff on set is incredibly fake because it is. If anything there were more emotional scenes which struck a chord with me.
I was seeing something play out which was close to me. Those scenes affected me on set. And I know the actors, especially Alex Wolff and Toni Collette, went to very dark places and I am sure they scared themselves.
UNILAD: Alex’s journey in particular is so fascinating. When it came to casting Alex and Milly Shapiro, how did you find them?
Ari: When Alex first came in we were auditioning and he sent in an amazing tape. I then saw him read and it was undeniable he really went there. We were sending out emotional scenes and he was able to channel something real. It was clear he was Peter right away.
With Milly, that was someone we were really worried about finding. We didn’t know if there was a person out there who could play Charlie. She came in and it was just a huge weight off my shoulders as it was clear she was the one.
She was a veteran when we cast her. She was Broadway trained and won a Tony for Matlida aged 10. Milly can do anything I think she is going to be a really great actress.
Hereditary is out in cinemas now if you dare…