Spiritual Mediation

Spiritual Mediation

Ari Aster grew up in New York City and studied directing at the AFI Conservatory. He wrote and directed a handful of shorts, including Munchausen and The Turtle’s Head, and now delivers his first feature, the critically acclaimed Hereditary. Toni Collette stars as Annie, a parent who becomes increasingly unhinged after the death of her mother.

ASFF: Hereditary is extremely accomplished for a first feature. What got you to this point?
AA: After graduating from the AFI Conservatory, where I studied as a director and got my MFA, I made about half a dozens short films while writing screenplays and trying to get something going. This was one of the more recent screenplays; it was the tenth one I’d written. It was a strategic move at that point, to write a horror movie. I thought it would be easier to get financed. It was an instinct that was validated.

ASFF: Do you see it as a genre movie? It doesn’t really feel like one…
AA: The film is doing two things. It’s trying to function as a very serious family drama that is serving as a meditation on grief and trauma. And it’s also unabashedly a horror movie. It’s a genre film and it’s trying to honour certain traditions, while maybe rejecting other traditions.

ASFF: Was Toni Collette always your first choice?
AA: Yeah, Toni was at the very top of the list. She’s a great actress. She’s always struck me as one of our most reliable actresses. I’ve loved her work ever since Muriel’s Wedding, and it occurred to me I’ve never really seen her chew apart the scenery in the same way this film demands…I’m not sure if I’ve seen her go this far.

ASFF: The film is very intense. Do you do a lot of takes?
I do a lot of takes, but that’s also because I don’t get traditional coverage. In some scenes I will do coverage, but for the most part I sequence my shots. I do a lot of takes not as a method to exhaust people but I understand that we’re not going to cut, and I need to have everything in that take. So you’re looking for the performance and then you’re also looking to meet the technical demands of the shot. There’s not a hand-held shot in the film. It’s all dolly. That’s one reason we built the entire house on a stage. The whole house was built from scratch, except the exterior. I compose a shot list and figure out the blocking before I talk to anybody in my crew.

ASFF: It sounds like you’re very self-assured. Was that the case?
I saw the movie very clearly in my head but you’re always worried about whether it will come off. Especially a film like this that goes off the rails in a big way. It’s a film that adopts more and more of a nightmare logic. It leaves traditional logic behind. It’s asking a lot of the audience. I didn’t know whether this was going to be rejected by most of the audience and embraced by a very small few.

James Mottram

Hereditary opens in cinemas on 15 June. For more details, click here.

1. Still from Hereditary.