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Filmmaker Letter

Filmmaker Letter


by writer/director Ari Aster

I’ve always agreed, in theory, with the David Lynch method of explaining nothing and allowing the audience to navigate a film without mediation. Of course, countless factors—advertising, word of mouth, the expectations that audiences bring to a genre film—make this almost impossible. So, in the spirit of futility, here are a few things that I wanted to do with Hereditary.

I wanted to make a grief-driven family drama that degenerated over the course of its running time into a total nightmare—in the way that life can feel like a nightmare when things fall apart.

I wanted it to begin as an ensemble character study and to then collapse under the weight of the extreme emotions that it would eventually be unable to contain. In this way, the film perhaps owes a greater debt to the traditions of the domestic melodrama (in its attempt to honor the feelings at its center by unabashedly being as "big" as them) than to the horror movie.

That said, I still wanted to make a film in the tradition of the horror movies that I loved when growing up—films like Don’t Look Now, Rosemary’s Baby, The Innocents, Kwaidan, Possession, The Fly, Ugetsu, Psycho and—there’s no getting around it—The Shining. I also gave active consideration to the two films that traumatized me most deeply as a kid: Carrie, which I’ve since rediscovered and was shocked to find that it’s actually a deeply sad and deeply campy horror comedy, and Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover—a film that’s as upsetting in its absurdly aestheticized vision as anything I’ve seen.

In my loftiest moments, I wanted Hereditary to serve as a harsh rebuttal to the American exceptionalism myth of family bonds being strengthened by horrible adversity. The adversity is so often sterilized in the movies, and the collective healing is then presented as a given. I wanted to make something that stood in defiant contrast to that tradition. (The horror genre, bless it, somehow allows one to do this and still hope for a sizable audience.)

I could keep digging this hole, but I'll stop there. Whether I succeeded in any of the above is for you to decide.

Again, I find it dangerous (and all too tempting) to write extensively about my intentions, but I hope this at least offers some vague insight into my delusions while making Hereditary. I was outrageously lucky to have the opportunity to make this film in the right way and with the right people. I am so grateful to everyone who helped, and I am forever indebted to all the wonderful artists and craftspeople whose very personal stamp is now preserved on the film.

I hope you enjoy Hereditary. I hope it stays with you, as all good films should.

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