'Hereditary' Director Talks Influences And Says 'Dogville' Is The "Best Movie Of The Last Twenty Years"

Hereditary” director Ari Aster recently sat down with Film Comment’s Michael Koresky for a pretty wide-ranging discussion on his newest, and first, feature, which has already become on the best-reviewed films of the year. Of particular note in the conversation is Aster’s own filmic influences and what’s immediately clear is that Aster has an encyclopedic knowledge of film, telling an interesting anecdote, “My mom likes to tell me that she was in labor with ‘Fanny and Alexander‘ playing. I’m not sure that’s possible … I believe her and that’s one of my favorite films,” immediately beginning Aster’s obsession with film.

The conversation was recorded on the eve of “Hereditary’s” release, and with an audience that hadn’t yet seen it, so it’s a fairly spoiler-free talk that zeroes in on Aster’s reverence for a wide range of directors and how his own process has been influenced by them. For a film so steeped in the horror genre, Aster’s references everything from Mike Leigh’s “Another Year” to Roman Polanski’s “Tess.” In regards to horror, the conversation inevitably turns to Kubrick’s “The Shining” and the role of that film’s miniature hedge maze, which served as one of the inspirations for “Hereditary’s” doll houses.

For Aster, his film viewing was always tied to his relationship with his mother, noting:

“A lot of my favorite films are things I saw for the first time with my mother and we both responded very strongly to these films. Like ‘Mulholland Drive’ was a big deal, we watched that together. ‘The Piano Teacher’ was really big, I think I was 15 or 14 when I saw it. We loved it. I think the big two were ‘Dogville,’ which I think is the maybe the best movie of the last twenty years … and ‘Songs from the Second Floor,’ that changed my life”

He spends the majority of the conversation discussing how certain directors are able to “breath new life into a dead horse” in regards to genre filmmaking, believing that it’s less important to avoid all generic trappings then present them in a new and interesting way.

In regards to his own process, Aster particularly mentions the “dollhouse aesthetic” that serves as a thematic connection throughout the entire film, noting how he had to pre-design all of the sets for the miniatures that Toni Collette‘s character builds in the film :

“It became a logistical nightmare … Because we were designing this house to be built in Park City on a soundstage but then we also had a miniaturist in Toronto who was waiting for our designs so he could start replicating them. That means that he is not just waiting for what are the dimensions of the rooms … but what does the wood paneling look like, what is the wallpaper, what are the drapes over the windows, are there plants in any of these rooms, what are the plants? What are they potted in? Are there blankets on the bed? … So we ended up having to settle on the dressing of the set a couple of months before shooting these things.”

Aster also creates specific shot lists and blocks the entire film in pre-production, as he finds production becomes so hectic that it’s the “least creative time” for him.

The entire conversation makes for an interesting and informative listen, as Aster is well versed and articulate enough to see how other films have influenced his own process. It also appears we won’t have to wait too long for his next film, which as he says, “Well I shouldn’t actually be here right now … but I’m in pre-production for a film I’ll be shooting in August in Hungary, and Hungary is serving for Sweden. So it’s a movie set in Sweden and, what can I say, it’s an apocalyptic breakup movie.” 

After the strong reception of “Hereditary,” we’ll be looking forward to seeing what exactly that description means.