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.

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