Director Ari Aster and star Milly Shapiro on how Hereditary made audiences lose their heads
“It’s a thing when you’re a kid that you’re always warned against,” says Ari Aster, director of the year’s creepiest film, Hereditary. “Don’t put your head out the window, it’s going to get taken off.” And for all of Hereditary’s creeping dread, it’s the visceral impact of the moment when Milly Shapiro’s Charlie discovers the truth of that maxim that stays with you. “The idea first came to me almost as a joke,” adds Aster. “Then it was, how do I pull the tongue from the cheek and have it be devastating?”
The sequence, in which Charlie suffers an allergic reaction and sticks her head out of a car in order to get some air, only to suffer an unfortunate interface with a telegraph pole, was filmed over the course of six hours on a quiet Utah road. “They had a stunt person holding my legs, so I could lean out and be safe as we were driving down the road,” says Shapiro. “But we were nowhere near any poles.” That job instead went to a dummy — and they had just one go at getting the decapitation in the can. Aster covered it with two cameras, a rare indulgence on a low-budget horror. The memorable shot of Charlie’s head consumed by ants was, says Aster, “what you’re seeing five seconds after we’ve thrown 3,000 ants onto the fake head”.
There’s a school of thought on the internet that Aster actually buried a stealth spoiler for this sequence within the title of the film itself. Sadly, Aster confirms that he did not intend for Hereditary to be pronounced as “’her ‘ed ‘it a tree’”. “I love that,” he laughs. “But I had never heard that before, nor had I thought of it myself.” Bah. Headed off at the pass.