11 Memorable Facts About Hereditary

Milly Shapiro in Hereditary (2018).
Milly Shapiro in Hereditary (2018).
A24

Hereditary premiered in 2018, forever ruining treehouses, miniature art, and cluck-ing sounds for everyone who saw it. Part occult horror and part domestic drama, the movie follows a family grappling with the traumatic death of its youngest member and the dark traditions that haunt its bloodline. The movie has been praised as an impressive debut from writer/director Ari Aster and a highlight of the new golden age of horror.

While many viewers likely wish they could scrub Hereditary from their minds, others may be curious to learn more about it, such as what inspired it, how the cast was convinced to sign on, and what the director really thinks of that scene. If you belong to the latter camp, read on for facts about the film.

1. Ari Aster’s disturbing shorts got the studio’s attention.

Hereditary was most fans’ introduction to Ari Aster, but it wasn’t his first work of cinema. Prior to his feature film debut, he had directed some noteworthy shorts. The Strange Thing About the Johnsons, Aster’s graduate thesis at the American Film Institute Conservatory, is the most prolific—and strangest—of the bunch: It tells the story of a father being sexually abused by his son. Despite the disturbing subject matter, the 30-minute short was an official selection at both the New York and Slamdance Film Festivals.

His short film Munchausen also infuses family dynamics with horror elements, with the plot following a mother who poisons her son to stop him from leaving for college. Both films caught the attention of the indie studio A24 and convinced executives that Aster could write and direct a twisted family drama.

2. Hereditary was inspired by another unsettling movie.

Aster’s vision for Hereditary was inspired by a few horror staples including Carrie (1976) and Rosemary’s Baby (1968). But there was another, more obscure source he drew from when crafting his movie. For those who are unfamiliar with Peter Greenaway's The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, the 1989 film starring Helen Mirren and Michael Gambon, it centers on a woman having an affair with a man at her abusive husband’s restaurant. Like Hereditary, it’s more than the straightforward drama it appears to be on the surface. The unrated film is noteworthy for a host of controversial elements including explicit sex, defecation, and cannibalism. As a guest on the CineFix Directors Series, Aster said that he snuck the movie out of his local video store around age 12 after learning that it had upset his stoic father. “I regretted watching it for many years,” Aster said.

3. Toni Collette was hesitant to take the lead role.

Toni Collette stars in 'Hereditary' (2018)
Toni Collette stars in Hereditary (2018).
A24

Toni Collette’s performance as Annie is rightly lauded as a highlight of Hereditary, as well as a highlight of her acting career. But the role almost went to someone else—not because that’s what the director wanted, but because Collette was hesitant to sign on. She doesn’t consider herself a horror fan, and at the time she was approached with the script, she was only interested in doing lighter films. “I reallllllly wasn’t looking to do anything this heavy,” Collette told The Daily Beast. But after reading the script and realizing it wasn’t a typical horror flick, she couldn’t resist saying yes.

4. Ari Aster avoided calling Hereditary a horror movie.

Any movie that has as much satanism, decapitation, and creepy kid content as Hereditary does automatically falls into the horror genre. But when he was initially pitching the film, Aster was hesitant to use the label. "The film is a horror film, it's unabashedly one, but as I was pitching it, I was describing it as a family tragedy that curdles into a nightmare," Aster told NPR. "I wanted the film to function first as a vivid family drama before I even bothered attending to the horror elements.”

Aster's plan worked: The movie relies on classic horror tropes, but by bringing in elements from other genres, Aster convinced studios—and critics—to take it more seriously.

5. Sets helped create a dollhouse aesthetic.

From the opening scene, the director makes it clear that he wants you to view the characters like figurines in a dollhouse. But Annie’s career as a miniaturist isn’t the only way Aster conveys this information. To achieve a “dollhouse” aesthetic, all the house scenes were shot on a set on a soundstage. That way, the crew could remove ceilings and walls and film the actors from farther away than they would have been able to shooting in an actual house. The unique perspective is meant to evoke the feeling of looking at a scene in a diorama.

6. Alex Wolff offered to break his own nose.

Alex Wolff not only shot Peter’s creepy desk scene without a stunt double, but he was willing to slam his face into a real, solid desk. “I said to Ari when that scene was coming up, ‘I will do it on a real desk, just tell me,’” Wolff told The Wrap. “And he said, ‘I love you and thank you but that is definitely not allowed, definitely an illegal thing to do so we’re not going to do that …’ break my own face.” To make the situation safer, the production team brought it in a cushioned prop desk, but according to Wolff, it was still hard enough to hurt. And he was really bleeding in that scene, but not from his nose: He had injured his knee after banging it against the desk.

7. The Hereditary trailer scared a lot of kids.

Even before Hereditary hit theaters, the film was terrifying audience members—unintentionally. In spring of 2018, an Australian movie theater accidentally screened the trailer before a showing of the family film Peter Rabbit. The theater was packed with at least 40 children, and they were understandably upset. The cinema gave out free movie passes as an apology.

8. That scene is Ari Aster’s favorite.

If you remember any part of Hereditary, it’s likely the gut-wrenching car accident scene that sets the horrifying events of the second half in motion. Aster is well aware of how effective it is. “That’s probably my favorite sequence in the film,” he told Vanity Fair, “everything that’s happening around those 15 minutes.” It’s probably the best sequence in the film, but favorite maybe isn’t the term we’d use.

9. that scene was almost more gruesome.

The same production design team that created the miniatures for Hereditary were also responsible for some of the gorier props used in the film. In an interview with The Verge, model and makeup effects designer Steve Newburn said that Hereditary’s most unsettling moment could have been much worse. In reference to Charlie’s decapitation, he said, “It’s toned down significantly [...] We had built entire puppets that the heads came off of, and squished, and blood went in every direction. It was all shot. It was pretty brutal to watch.” Fortunately for squeamish viewers, Aster decided to go with a “less is more” approach in the final cut.

10. Hereditary was partly inspired by Ari Aster’s real life.

Still of Gabriel Byrne, Toni Collette, Alex Wolff and Milly Shapiro in Hereditary

Gabriel Byrne, Toni Collette, Alex Wolff and Milly Shapiro in Hereditary (2018).

A24

When writing and directing the most personal moments in Hereditary, Aster drew from his own life experience. He told the Indo-Asian News Service that he and his family endured a series of traumatic events over the course of a few years, with circumstances becoming so grim that he dubbed it a “curse.”

"I'd never want to baldly dramatize any of the suffering that I or my family had gone through, so by taking the idea of a family being cursed and then literalizing that, I was able to put a lot of those feelings through a horror movie filter, where the canvas demands a high level of catharsis,” Aster said. What exactly those events were the filmmaker hasn’t revealed, but it’s safe to assume the satanic possession portions of the movie were fabricated.

11. The cult’s symbol is hidden throughout the movie.

Observant viewers will notice many references to the film’s ending sprinkled throughout Hereditary. One of these is the symbol of the cult that terrorizes the family. Annie’s mother can be seen wearing it as a necklace at her funeral, but it also shows up in unexpected places, like on the telephone pole that decapitates Charlie.

Rewind Time With This Blockbuster-Themed Party Game

Amazon/Big Potato Games
Amazon/Big Potato Games

With only one Blockbuster location left in the world, the good old days of wandering video rental store aisles and getting chewed out for late fees are definitely a thing of the past—but like so many relics from the '90s, the pull of nostalgia has ensured that Blockbuster (or at least the brand) won't disappear for good. Now the video store is back in the form of a party game from Big Potato Games that is designed to test the movie knowledge of you and up to 11 friends.

Marketing itself as “a movie game for anyone who has ever seen a movie,” the Blockbuster party game consists of two parts. In part one, players from each team compete head-to-head to name as many movies as they can that fit under specific categories (e.g., movies with Tom Cruise, famous trilogies, movies with planes). In the second half, two teams face off against each other to test their skills at a game of movie-related charades. The catch? Players can only describe movies in one of three randomly chosen ways: acting out scenes, rattling off a famous quote, or describing the films with one word.

The real selling point of the whole package is that Big Potato fit all the game cards and buzzer into a box that is virtually identical to the old-school Blockbuster VHS rental cases, right down to its distinct color scheme and shape. All it's missing is the membership card. 

The Blockbuster board game costs $26 on Amazon and $20 at Target. That’s a fair price for getting the chance to rewind time.

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8 Festive Facts About Hallmark Channel Christmas Movies

The holiday season means gifts, lavish meals, stocking stuffers, and what appear to be literally hundreds of holiday-themed movies running in perpetuity on the Hallmark Channel, which has come to replace footage of a crackling fireplace as the background noise of choice for cozy evenings indoors. Last year, roughly 70 million people watched Hallmark's holiday scheduling block. If you’re curious how the network manages to assemble films like Check Inn to Christmas, Christmas at Graceland: Home for the Holidays, and Sense, Sensibility & Snowmen with such efficiency—a total of 40 new films will debut this season on the Hallmark Channel, Hallmark Movies and Mysteries, and Hallmark Movies Now—keep reading.

1. The Hallmark Channel Christmas movie tradition started with ABC.

The idea of unspooling a continuous run of holiday films started in the 1990s, when ABC offshoot network ABC Family started a "25 Days of Christmas" programming promotion that would go on to feature the likes of Joey Lawrence and Mario Lopez. The Hallmark Channel, which launched in 2001, didn’t fully embrace the concept until 2011, when ABC Family moved away from the concept in an effort to appeal to teen viewers.

2. Most Hallmark Channel Christmas movies are shot in Canada.

To maximize their $2 million budget, most Hallmark Channel holiday features are shot in Canada, where tax breaks can stretch the dollar. Wintry Vancouver is a popular destination, though films have also been shot in Montreal and Toronto. One film, 2018's Christmas at the Palace, was shot in Romania to take advantage of the country's castles.

3. Each Hallmark Channel Christmas movie only takes a couple of weeks to film.

If you’re wondering why a holiday movie on basic cable can regularly attract—and keep—a list of talent ranging from Candace Cameron Bure to Lacey Chabert, the answer is partly scheduling. Most Hallmark holiday movies take just two to three weeks to shoot, meaning actors don’t have to commit months out of the year to a project. Actors like Rachael Leigh Cook, who stars in this year's A Blue Ridge Mountain Christmas, have also complimented the channel on giving them opportunities to be with their families while on location: Cook said that the production schedule allowed her time to FaceTime with family back home.

4. Hallmark Channel Christmas movies use a variety of tricks to create snow.

Even more pervasive than Dean Cain in the Hallmark Channel Christmas line-up is snow. Because some of the films shoot in the summer, it’s not always possible to achieve that powder naturally. Producers use a variety of tricks to simulate snowfall, including snow blankets that mimic the real thing when laid out; foam; commercial replica snow; crushed limestone; and ice shavings. Actors might also get covered with soapy bubbles for close-ups. The typical budget for snow per movie is around $50,000.

5. There’s a psychological reason why Hallmark Channel Christmas movies are so addictive.

Like a drug, Hallmark Channel Christmas movies provide a neurological reward. Speaking with CNBC in 2019, Pamela Rutledge, behavioral scientist, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, and a faculty member in the Media Psychology department at Fielding Graduate University, explained that the formulaic plots and predictability of the films is rewarding, especially when viewers are trying to unwind from the stress of the holiday season. “The lack of reality at all levels, from plot to production, signals that the movies are meant to be escapism entertainment,” Rutledge said. “The genre is well-defined, and our expectations follow. This enables us to suspend disbelief.”

6. Hallmark Channel Christmas movie fans now have their own convention.

Call it the Comic-Con of holiday cheer. This year, fans of Hallmark Channel’s Christmas programming got to attend ChristmasCon, a celebration of all things Hallmark in Edison, New Jersey. Throngs of people gathered to attend panels with movie actors and writers, scoop up merchandise, and vie for prizes during an ugly sweater competition. The first wave of $50 admission tickets sold out instantly. Hallmark Channel USA was the official sponsor.

7. Hallmark Channel Christmas movies are helping keep cable afloat.

Actors Brooke D'Orsay and Marc Blucas are pictured in a publicity still from the 2017 Hallmark Channel original movie 'Miss Christmas'
Brooke D'Orsay and Marc Blucas in Miss Christmas (2017).
Hallmark Channel

In an era of cord-cutting and streaming apps, more and more people are turning away from cable television, preferring to queue up programming when they want it. But viewers of Hallmark Channel’s holiday offerings often tune in as the movie is airing. In 2016, 4 million viewers watched the line-up “live.” One reason might be the communal nature of the films. People tend to watch holiday-oriented programming in groups, tuning in as they air. The result? For the fourth quarter of 2018, the Hallmark Channel was the most-watched cable network among women 18 to 49 and 25 to 54, even outpacing broadcast network programming on Saturday nights.

8. You can get paid to watch Hallmark Channel Christmas movies.

If you think you have the constitution to make it through 24 Hallmark Channel holiday films in 12 days, you might want to consider applying for the Hallmark Movie Dream Job contest, which is sponsored by Internet Service Partners and will pay $1000 to the winning entrant who seems most capable of binging the two dozen films and making wry comments about them on social media. You can enter though December 6 here.

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