The trailer for A24's upcoming horror film Hereditary features the kind of pull quotes (including one from our own A.A. Dowd’s glowing assessment) that lead audiences to wonder if it could actually be as disturbing as it sounds. Judging by the spellbound audience at SXSW, you should maybe believe the hype.
The film’s midnight premiere ended up turning hundreds of people away at the door, as a packed house sat down to watch Ari Aster’s psychologically fraught chiller. (Moonlight director Barry Jenkins was among the enthusiastic crowd, sitting front and center to take in the film.) And I can honestly say it was one of the more impressive theatergoing experiences I’ve had in terms of an entire roomful of people taking surprise gasps in unison. It’s not a scare-a-minute thrill ride, but rather a deeply disturbing and traumatic family drama that slowly transforms into something more sinister. And that was by design: During the Q&A following the screening, Aster talked about some of the films that influenced him as he was crafting this depiction of familial breakdown, and among his name checks (along with the expected horror touchstones like Polanski) were potent domestic dramas like In the Bedroom and The Ice Storm.
That last one was a surprise to Elijah Wood, who costarred in Ang Lee’s period piece and who was on hand to lead the Q&A. Wood kept shaking his head, saying variants on, “God, that was horrifying.” The most interesting behind-the-scenes tidbit Wood coaxed out of the director was the admission that when location scouting proved unable to find a house that could allow for the kinds of wide shots Aster wanted (Toni Collette’s character makes miniatures, and numerous scenes are meant to evoke the diorama-style scenes made within the film), the director decided they had to build a house to get it right. And they did, an impressive feat for a low-budget horror flick.
Wood is right: It’s a really horrifying film. Even this diehard horror fan found himself waking up in the middle of the night after the screening, and—for the first time in years—having to put on a little light in the hotel room as a bulwark against what might be lurking in the dark. It’s that unsettling. Hereditary opens June 8.