When it comes to modern horror director aficionado’s, there are very few filmmakers you would put above Ari Aster, despite him having only completed two contemporary horror feature films. However, there is a very particular way in which Aster approaches his work, a method that makes him significantly different to other filmmakers of his ilk. Careful, measured and artistic, his horrors access a deeper plain of consciousness, playing on fears we never even knew we had, boxing this terror together with ingenious use of cinematography and sound.
For example, there are few moments quite as impactful in the 21st century as ‘that car scene’ in Hereditary, a truly horrifying moment that Aster perfectly delivers by use of careful pacing and a fearlessness behind the camera to linger on the most uncomfortable moments, in particular, some terrific acting from Alex Wolff. Hereditary was followed by Midsommar a year later, an entirely different kind of horror that played on the pain of loss and the torment of pain itself in the context of a brutal, cult-like folk festival.
Though such a precise knowledge of the filmic art is not possible without a rich understanding of the history of the medium, which Ari Aster certainly has, even claiming: “My mom likes to tell me that she was in labour with ‘Fanny and Alexander‘ playing. I’m not sure that’s possible…I believe her and that’s one of my favourite films”.
In conversation with Michael Koresky of Film Comment, Aster discusses the bevvy of films that influence his filmmaking oeuvre, noting Mike Leigh’s Another Year and Roman Polanski’s Tess as well as many others he’d watch with his mother. As the director states, “A lot of my favourite films are things I saw for the first time with my mother and we both responded very strongly to these films. Like Mulholland Drive was a big deal, we watched that together. The Piano Teacher was really big, I think I was 15 or 14 when I saw it. We loved it”.
Continuing, the director notes his two of his favourite films from the last 20 years, commenting: “I think the big two were Dogville, which I think is the maybe the best movie of the last twenty years…and Songs from the Second Floor, that changed my life”. Directed by Lars Von Trier and Roy Andersson respectively, both of Ari Aster’s picks mark notable creative innovations in the medium, with both films going on to influence the future of film considerably.
In addition to Dogville and Songs from the Second Floor, Aster also highlights Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, noting the horror as a significant source of inspiration for Hereditary’s dollhouses. Discussing this “dollhouse aesthetic” used throughout his debut feature, Aster noted: “It became a logistical nightmare…Because we were designing this house to be built in Park City on a soundstage but then we also had a miniaturist in Toronto who was waiting for our designs so he could start replicating them”.
Continuing, Aster comments: “That means that he is not just waiting for what are the dimensions of the rooms … but what does the wood panelling look like, what is the wallpaper, what are the drapes over the windows”.
Take a look at the full interview between Ari Aster and Film Comment below.