We recommend the movies that influenced Ari Aster as well as the filmmaker’s early works.
The latest horror drama from A24 fits with the distributor’s genre-blurring pictures, particularly The Witch, as well as other modern arthouse horror, from Lars von Trier’s Antichrist to Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook to Darren Aronofsky’s Mother!. Like those films, Hereditary is partly a throwback to ’60s and ’70s horror, but it also shows a clear influence from classic family dramas while also just following the distinct and disturbing filmography of Ari Aster, for whom this is his feature debut.
Below is a selection of movies that are necessary to watch after seeing Hereditary if you haven’t seen them before. Most are direct influences on Aster and his new film, joined by one personal recommendation and a highlight of the filmmaker’s early work.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Roman Polanski’s supernatural horror classic kickstarted a trend of movies about demonic children and possessed offspring, such as The Exorcist and The Omen, but it stands apart from most by focusing on the mother rather than her evil kid. Mia Farrow stars in the titular role as a woman who becomes pregnant and slowly begins to realize her neighbors are part of a satanic cult using her to birth the Devil’s spawn, or Antichrist. Similar to Hereditary, the movie concludes with a downer of an ending.
While there were sequels to both the original novel and the movie, Rosemary’s Baby is best accepted as a terminal entity where we are left to imagine (or not) the fate of the world now that a demonic figure is given an opportunity to rise up in the real world. Aster recently told Fandango that he has an idea for a sequel to Hereditary that “would be very weird and crazy,” but as much as I’m curious about how the follow-up would be, as he claims, “extremely unorthodox,” it’s not something that should be done.
Aster mentioned his love for Rosemary’s Baby within the horror genre to Nerdist then went into some more modern recommendations:
“I love horror movies. As a kid, I was obsessed with horror films and I saw everything that came out. And I exhausted the horror section of every video store. I’ve seen everything, but it’s just been a while since I’ve been a true enthusiast. So many of these films are made so cynically and the risk-reward algorithm works so much on it. Working so much in the studio’s favor, the films are often just kind of pumped out. And there are always exceptions. I mean, ‘Rosemary’s Baby,’ when it came out, was an exception to the B-movie horror slots, right?…Lately we’ve had a really exciting resurgence with films like ‘The Witch,’ ‘Let the Right One In,’ and ‘Get Out,’ [which is] really more of a satire, but it’s brilliant. It plays with horror really diligently.”
Read more of that interview for his spotlight on Korean horror also, particularly Na Hong-jin’s The Wailing. Elsewhere he’s also mentioned his love for the Japanese horror films Ugetsu, Onibaba, Empire of Passion, Kwaidan, and Kuroneko. And for an even earlier horror classic, try the 1961 “Turn of the Screw” adaptation The Innocents.
Cries & Whispers (1972)
Aster has talked about how he didn’t have cast and crew watch horror movies to prepare for Hereditary, but rather showed them family dramas. Two of those include Ingmar Bergman’s Cries & Whispers and Autumn Sonata. The former is a major inspiration for today’s artier horror filmmakers, even though it’s not exactly linked to the genre itself. Perhaps if it was released today, Cries & Whispers would be marketed as a scary movie, and it too would receive a very low CinemaScore grade as a result.
— Ari Aster (@AriAster) June 1, 2018
The film is about a dying woman (Harriet Andersson) and the sisters (Liv Ullman and Ingrid Thulin) who visit during her final days. There are disturbing images and heavy themes that are felt in modern mashups of horror and family drama, but visually where Cries & Whispers connects to Hereditary might be mostly in the films’ use of extended extreme close-ups on characters’ faces. Autumn Sonata, on the other hand, would seem to inspire Hereditary‘s backstory with its focus on an estranged mother and daughter.
In an interview for the MPAA’s The Credits, Aster noted of Hereditary‘s influences:
“I don’t think I am directly referencing anything although there is pretty explicit nod to ‘Rosemary’s Baby.’ I am hoping the film is honoring a tradition in horror that is more antiquated by taking time put stock in atmosphere and character. A feeling of being traumatized. One film I screened for the crew to get that across was ‘Cries and Whispers,’ which takes wrestling with death and suffering seriously.”
Catching up with Bergman may also be a good way to prepare for Aster’s next movie, a psychedelic thriller about a vacation gone wrong in Sweden that has the very Bergman-like title Midsommer.
Don’t Look Now (1973)
Although considered a classic horror movie, Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now is, like Hereditary, most of the time a drama about grief. At the start of the film, a young child drowns in a pond while her parents (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) aren’t watching her. The couple is then haunted by their loss as they travel to Venice, Italy, for a job, and the setting provides for a lot of the gothic tone of the story, which similar to Hereditary involves a seance and further parental misfortune.
Aster has acknowledged a benefit to constructed settings (like Hereditary‘s dollhouse-like sets) over real locations, for the way they can be molded to the film and his meticulous pre-planning of shots, but Don’t Look Now‘s use of Venice makes the city seem like it was made just for the purpose of its appearance as the movie’s backdrop. Aster told Film Comment, in addition to recognizing the score by Pino Donaggio and Roeg’s surprising knack for montage, of the relationship between Hereditary and Don’t Look Now:
“‘Don’t Look Now’ for me serves as a very serious meditation on grief, and it’s also horrifying. But it’s horrifying because you’re so invested in these people and what they go through. So I see ‘Hereditary’ as something of a spiritual sibling to ‘Don’t Look Now.'”
Sounds like Don’t Look Now is a good pick to watch first among those on this list, or as a double feature with Hereditary.
Brian De Palma’s original adaptation of Stephen King’s first novel is another film recognized by Aster as an influence. The climax and third act of Carrie tend to be what’s remembered, but before that classic horror iconography of the bloody and fiery prom is basically just a mother-daughter psychodrama focused on Sissy Spacek’s telekinetic teen and Piper Laurie’s overbearing parent. Take away the supernatural powers, though, and Carrie would likely still wind up committing matricide if not killing more of her tormenters.
Aster told Film Comment of how Carrie affected him as a young viewer:
“I was really bothered by ‘Carrie’ as a kid. Obviously the performances by Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie are so brilliant, but there’s also De Palma’s campy side. I don’t know. It’s so cruel to her. It butters you up. You’ve seen the ugly duckling story so many times, so you think, okay, Carrie’s going to be prom queen. It’s a film that really turns on you and really betrays you. Because you do care about Carrie. She doesn’t deserve what’s happening to her.”
That sounds negative, but here’s how he connects it to Hereditary:
“I think with ‘Hereditary,’ and other films I’m referencing, they turn on you, they ask, so do you REALLY want to be scared? And the only way I know how to do that is to go into my own fears and what bothers me.”
According to Aster, if you’re a true horror fan, you should watch movies that truly frighten and disturb and challenge you.
Ordinary People (1980)
The basic pitch for Hereditary was apparently Rosemary’s Baby meets Ordinary People, which doesn’t sound terribly lucrative or high concept but gave a sense of what Aster was going for. Again, he didn’t present horror movies as reference so much as family dramas, including Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm, Mike Leigh’s Secrets and Lies and All or Nothing, Andrew Haigh’s 45 Years, Todd Field’s In the Bedroom, which Aster acknowledged to iHorror “has a reversal at the 30-minute mark that isn’t so different from the one in Hereditary,” and this Best Picture winner from actor-turned-director Robert Redford, which also stars Donald Sutherland as father/husband.
“I wanted the idea to be that we were making a family drama that sort of warped as it goes along,” Aster told IndieWire. And in the interview with iHorror, he said: “It was important to me that we attend to the family drama before we attended to the horror elements. The film needed to stand on its own as a domestic tragedy before it could work as a scary movie.”
Critics have latched onto the Ordinary People meets Rosemary’s Baby pitch, which Aster seems to think is too easy a description. I’ve even seen Hereditary referred to as being a remake of the former with a horror twist. Toni Collette’s character and performance has been likened to Mary Tyler Moore’s Oscar-nominated role in Ordinary People while one dinner table scene in particular has been called out as comparable to the drama in the film, which similarly deals with parents and a surviving son coping with feelings of grief and guilt following the death of another young member of their family.
The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989)
Aster has often mentioned how Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover traumatized him as a kid. The story goes that he secretly rented the movie by swapping its VHS cassette with a copy of Troop Beverly Hills (“or something”) — ironically the version he saw was still probably only the tamer, Blockbuster-friendly R-rated cut. Perhaps a future horror filmmaker will wind up somehow secretly renting Hereditary (if only there was a way to appropriately disguise it as The Boss) way too early in their life.
And that filmmaker can carry over another visual of a well-done body — “mine is way more overcooked,” Aster told The Credits of his version of the unsettling image. As much as this film has clearly inspired Aster, he told Film Comment that he dislikes Greenaway as a filmmaker. About his experience seeing The Cook…, he said he regretted it. Aster calls him misanthropic and says he hates people. On this particular film he also says, referencing the cooked up body:
“Whenever I would walk around in the dark at night, I would project those images onto the walls, of the lover’s body that looks like a roasted turkey. But a big part of it is the beauty of the film: there’s a real ugliness to the content, to the cold eye he’s casting on all this stuff.”
In the same interview, he says of the influence of the sets on those of Hereditary:
“We were going for this kind of dollhouse aesthetic, and whenever I said that people would mention Wes Anderson, and I’d say, “No, no, no… Peter Greenaway.” That’s something that stayed with me, how upsetting I found those sets. I find that some of the films I am most enamored of really play with the Brechtian distancing.”
Maybe you’ll dislike Greenaway, too, but those comments make it obvious that this is a movie you have to see regardless, both for the context and to be familiar with such as disagreeably influential film and filmmaker. Kind of like the films of von Trier — he also acknowledges the sets of Dogville in the same breath, after all. Here’s a video interview with CineFix where he goes deep on the influence of The Cook…:
This selection may seem the least fitting. It’s the only title on this list not directly connected to Hereditary in any way, but I needed to have at least one film completely of my own choosing and I needed to include, as always, an obligatory documentary pick. Also, I wanted to highlight something with miniature dioramic scenes tied to stories of trauma and didn’t want to go with Beetlejuice. Jeff Malmberg’s acclaimed nonfiction feature, a remake of which is due from Robert Zemeckis this fall, was the best alternative.
Marwencol showcases artist Mark Hogancamp, whose work involves dolls and a scale model of a fictional town he constructed rather than tiny dollhouse-like miniature dioramas. Similar to Toni Collette’s character in Hereditary, many of Hogancamp’s setup scenes are based on his own real-life experiences. Nothing so horrifying as a decapitated daughter in an automobile accident or dueling breastfeeders but inspired by his memory of being attacked in an incident that left him brain damaged and near-dead.