Five Favorite Films

Hereditary Director Ari Aster's Five Favorite Films

The writer-director of the acclaimed horror film talks about the ways Martin Scorsese, Ingmar Bergman, Mike Leigh, and more have influenced him.

by | June 11, 2018 | Comments

(Photo by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images)

Ari Aster may not be a name you immediately recognize, but it’s likely one you’ll be seeing a lot more of in the future. The New York native began his career with a handful of short films, most notably 2011’s The Strange Truth about the Johnsons, which touched on themes of sexual abuse and family dysfunction and set off heated discussions in the independent film world.

Last week, he unleashed his first feature-length film, Hereditary, which premiered at Sundance earlier this year to rave reviews and became Certified Fresh upon its release. It’s a tense, slow-burning horror film dressed in the trappings of a family drama, infused with dread and punctuated by shocking moments that are equal parts terrifying and disturbing, and it’s marked Aster as a talent to watch. He spoke with us about his Five Favorite Films, and considering the technical skill on display in Hereditary, it wasn’t surprising to learn that he counts some classics among his influences. Read on for Ari Aster’s Five Favorite Films.


Songs From the Second Floor (2002) 89%

I guess I’ll have to start with Songs from the Second Floor, which is a film by Roy Andersson, who is a brilliant Swedish filmmaker who basically… He made a feature in the ’70s called A Swedish Love Story that is a really wonderful, strange, funny, acerbic commentary on Sweden that became this huge hit. I think it was the biggest hit ever in Sweden. And then he delved into making commercials for a long time, and he developed this new style over the course of something like 300, 400, 500 commercials. Then, in the early 2000s, he came out with this film that took him several years to make called Songs from the Second Floor, which is like a parody of obsessive perfectionism. He’s very similar Jacques Tati in that he works primarily with stationary wide shots, and he’s always building sets. All of the sets in his films are built from scratch, and the reason his films take so long to make is because each each vignette is one shot, and the set for that shot tends to take a month to build.

There’s just like these gorgeous paintings, and there’s this really singular, dark, dry, sad wit driving everything he does. Since Songs from the Second Floor he’s come out with two other films that play like spiritual sequels, You the Living and A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, which I think you can see on Netflix. But Songs from the Second Floor remains the most perfect of the films, in my opinion.

You talk about the way those sets were built, and I’m wondering if that inspired the way you shot Hereditary, considering you built that house on a set as well.

Absolutely. I love working on sets, and I love the artifice of sets that are built on a stage. I’ve always loved playing with artifice in that way, and I really tried to find a way to put a Powell and Pressburger film on this list for that reason, because I just love what they were able to do on stages. For the same reason, that’s why I love Roy Andersson.

Fanny & Alexander (1982) 100%

I guess the next one would be Fanny & Alexander. I had to put a Bergman on here, and I really struggled to choose between Fanny & Alexander and Cries and Whispers, especially because Cries and Whispers was a film that I screened for the crew of Hereditary. But the television version of Fanny & Alexander, which is five hours long, strikes me as the greatest of the Bergman films. It just has everything. It’s got his humor. It has his sense of wonder and it’s so dreamlike and so gorgeous. The performances are so incredible. It’s so sprawling. Then it gets incredibly bleak when the father dies and the children are shipped off to live with the bishop, who is one of the great forbidding Bergman villains, but that’s just a film I love and adore.

8 1/2 (1963) 98%

Number three is 8 1/2. I feel like this is not particularly original of me, but this film probably has the most athletic blocking and camerawork that I had seen in any film. A lot of my favorite filmmakers have stolen from this film — you know, the filming from Fellini in general, but especially this film. I’ve already started stealing from him, but filmmakers like Scorsese and Polanski — so much of their technique is derived from really just the playfulness of this film in particular, and whenever I want to inspire myself to play with the camera and to play with blocking and to try to go a little bit further, I’ll watch 8 1/2.

Naked (1993) 88%

I guess the next one would be Naked, by Mike Leigh. Mike Leigh might be my favorite living filmmaker. A lot has been said about his working method, you know. He spends about six months with his actors basically finding the characters and improvising and building these relationships. Then after that, he’ll go off and write a script based on the improvisations that took place over those six months. It results in some of the most vivid character work I’ve ever seen. The relationships in his films are so rich, and you just feel so much history there. That’s because the history has really been built. It really exists.

But what people don’t really talk much about is just how wonderful a craftsman he is. His films are gorgeous and they’re beautifully made. I mean, his work with Dick Pope is just incredible, and they’re all so impeccably structured. So, I just think he’s made so many masterpieces. I toggled between Naked and Topsy-Turvy and Secrets and Lies being my favorite. But right now, Naked is the one that is coming to me.

I read that you also screened All or Nothing for the Hereditary crew.

I did screen All or Nothing for the crew for Hereditary, which is another film I just adore. It’s one of his bleaker family dramas. It ends on a bittersweet note. It’s a very tender film, but it’s also deeply sorrowful. It struck me as a kind of a perfect movie to watch before we made Hereditary.

Taxi Driver (1976) 97%

My final choice. This is really tough. Part of me wanted to say Dogville. Part of me wanted to say The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. And then part of me wanted to say Rosemary’s Baby. But I realized that I had to put an early Scorsese in there. I had a hard time choosing between Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, but I think it’s got to be Taxi Driver. I mean, from Bernard Hermann’s score to what Scorsese does with the camera with Michael Chapman. Yeah, it’s just like this sickly fever dream that captures a New York that I never got to see, but it just feels like New York to me. You know, the way that he kind of wrangled all of these very important influences that have nothing to do with one another. Like, there’s a lot of Bresson in there, but then there’s also Max Ophüls and there’s Fellini and there’s Cassavetes. You know, you see so many sources, but together they’ve become singularly Scorsese. I could put any number of Scorsese films in here. I could put Raging Bull, Goodfellas, The Age of Innocence, The King of Comedy, but right now this strikes me as like his toughest and most perfect film.

Also, Bernard Hermann’s score is so persistent and so pervasive, it feels like a total montage, because that score is so driving. I’m not sure if there is another Scorsese film whose score is so integral. I mean, Cape Fear‘s score is all over it, but Taxi Driver is like top to bottom just Bernard Hermann music.

Ryan Fujitani for Rotten Tomatoes: I understand that Hereditary was, at least in part, inspired by a difficult time in your own family’s life. Did that make it harder to work on this film, or was it more therapeutic?

Ari Aster: Well, the wonderful thing about the horror genre is that you can take personal feelings and material that’s touchier, and you can push it through this filter, and out comes something else. So, I was able to kind of exorcise certain feelings without actually having to put myself on the slab or put anybody else in my life on the slab.

RT: What film do you think people would be the most surprised to hear was an influence on Hereditary?

Aster: Let me think for just a second. I can say that my prime reference with Pawel Pogorzelski, my cinematographer, as far as lighting was concerned was Kieslowski’s Red. We were talking a lot about Kieslowski’s Red when we were talking lighting, and that kind of become our most important reference, lighting-wise.


Hereditary is playing in theaters everywhere now.

Tag Cloud

E3 Awards Fall TV The CW Superheroes social media Lucasfilm Anna Paquin TCA MSNBC Columbia Pictures versus Certified Fresh Set visit Oscars hispanic Peacock Kids & Family SDCC Opinion Awards Tour Drama psychological thriller zero dark thirty Winners biography CBS strong female leads Box Office Netflix Tomatazos CW Seed cats Holiday Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Marvel true crime Mary poppins NBC vampires Women's History Month Reality AMC Ovation 24 frames facebook reboot spy thriller Esquire Comic Book Crackle christmas movies Crunchyroll romantic comedy ratings YouTube Premium travel Syfy Nominations Baby Yoda OWN Creative Arts Emmys streaming DC Comics Spike Bravo spanish language Comedy Central MTV rotten movies we love psycho Logo IFC Films halloween teaser TCA Winter 2020 Reality Competition Hallmark Christmas movies comics Black Mirror 2018 Heroines Fox News south america YouTube Red miniseries werewolf tv talk NYCC finale Star Wars Cannes YA Christmas latino game show Acorn TV Captain marvel cults American Society of Cinematographers politics Hallmark slashers TBS Fantasy TV ABC Disney cancelled television Chilling Adventures of Sabrina political drama VH1 green book Sony Pictures comic canceled TV shows See It Skip It LGBT First Look Lifetime elevated horror TCM kids 2015 Nickelodeon FX singing competition Apple TV+ 007 natural history television Sci-Fi Cartoon Network crime TruTV hist Discovery Channel 21st Century Fox Best and Worst IFC Watching Series Rock Tarantino Emmy Nominations foreign Epix X-Men BET cancelled TV shows Mudbound medical drama Film Festival mutant APB Winter TV anime Food Network Apple TV Plus Rocketman BBC America Stephen King GoT The Witch sequel 71st Emmy Awards ITV Rom-Com anthology Paramount A&E PaleyFest TCA 2017 Spectrum Originals Disney+ Disney Plus screen actors guild Interview crossover Television Academy dramedy Apple Netflix Christmas movies Toys Pop indie Shondaland Musicals diversity The Walking Dead cancelled TV series YouTube Tumblr 2017 BBC TNT LGBTQ Ghostbusters The Arrangement History GIFs period drama Ellie Kemper CBS All Access MCU nature series Premiere Dates what to watch TLC witnail Biopics Animation TV Land OneApp WarnerMedia Avengers Brie Larson Musical Mystery stand-up comedy mockumentary First Reviews Summer HBO Max movies Sundance TV 2019 Teen Character Guide San Diego Comic-Con book Showtime animated adaptation sitcom Mary Poppins Returns Chernobyl documentary Nat Geo Music Sundance Comics on TV USA Emmys CNN 45 CMT Comedy transformers quibi Walt Disney Pictures WGN talk show Superheroe Lifetime Christmas movies cooking DC Universe Shudder dragons harry potter E! Super Bowl discovery doctor who Western Calendar supernatural Mary Tyler Moore Disney Channel Extras PBS game of thrones cars ABC Family Holidays Infographic breaking bad GLAAD Marvel Television technology Dark Horse Comics name the review Warner Bros. Countdown 2020 Trailer blockbuster Pride Month DGA Paramount Network cartoon Photos toy story space aliens spider-man free movies RT21 Endgame Polls and Games FXX Disney streaming service FOX based on movie HBO Red Carpet Hulu Podcast cinemax Rocky disaster Pirates New York Comic Con Spring TV 20th Century Fox Marvel Studios A24 spinoff Marathons Pixar TIFF binge Starz award winner canceled Song of Ice and Fire dc independent unscripted Britbox richard e. Grant sag awards Martial Arts directors Valentine's Day Pet Sematary Country crime drama Year in Review joker Disney Plus Sundance Now composers justice league police drama screenings romance adventure Tubi theme song Film video Arrowverse Action sports science fiction Schedule Thanksgiving Lionsgate Turner Classic Movies crime thriller golden globes Academy Awards serial killer cancelled 2016 robots Video Games docudrama SXSW Writers Guild of America festivals children's TV Classic Film DirecTV Star Trek ghosts Election Amazon Horror zombies zombie war National Geographic Turner TV renewals RT History casting President SundanceTV Grammys VICE historical drama Amazon Prime Video dceu Mindy Kaling Freeform Trivia Masterpiece Sneak Peek Quiz Cosplay revenge cops jamie lee curtis ESPN thriller Vudu boxoffice renewed TV shows batman The Purge comiccon DC streaming service Trophy Talk Binge Guide spain El Rey blaxploitation Adult Swim Elton John USA Network Family Universal Amazon Prime