Living and breathing right alongside the hair-raising scares in Ari Aster's Hereditary is an intriguing set of characters, including the Graham household itself. Built specifically for Aster's film, the Graham home's layout and lighting make the horrors of Hereditary all the more immersive, and to celebrate the movie's June 8th release from A24, Daily Dead spoke with production designer Grace Yun about the film's visual influences, collaborating creatively with Aster, and the home's integral role in the movie's unsettling story.
(Director) Ari Aster spent years developing Hereditary before it ever got the green light, and he put together an incredible creative team to bring his vision to life. What was your first introduction to Ari Aster and Hereditary?
Grace Yun: I got the script from my agent and obviously loved it. I loved the Greek tragedy dynamic feeling of it in the beginning, and then how it just really went into full-gear horror. There were literally moments while I was reading [the script], where I had to stand up and take a break and get a glass of water, turn on some lights, and then come back, sit down, and be like, "Okay, I'm gonna get through it."
After reading it, I met Ari at a café, and he's such a lovely person and our conversation just felt so fluid, and on a creative level we just dove right into it. We just started talking about concepts, and then started sketching things out. It was really such a fruitful and fun meeting, and we ended up getting kicked out because the café was closing, and we ended up walking a few blocks and continued our conversation.
From there, we dove right into it, and it just became a creative, conceptual, and character conversation. It was just such a wonderfully artfully rich prep time for me, and I knew that it was so design heavy that there was a lot of challenges that we were up against, but Ari just had this spirit of, "Let's keep pushing, let's not compromise."
The movie is incredibly layered, and the house is a character of its own that plays an important part in the story. How did the decision to build versus rent come about?
Grace Yun: I think your assessment of the house character is absolutely right. It was based on this incredibly detailed, well-thought-out list by Ari. He backed me in saying, “We really need to go for this [building the house],” because initially it was off the table, but after spending a lot of time with him I was like, "There is no way this house exists in real life." And I really thought we had to build it. And then we just got everyone else on board and we went full tilt with the build.
I was making sure the doorways were wide enough to get a dolly through because I was like, "Okay, this is a dolly move," and even the layout of the second floor needed [to be precise], making sure that it's kind of like a "T," kind of a cross. It was a very, very interesting exercise for me.
You mentioned the Greek tragedy aspects of this movie, and I know Ari approached this as a family drama first, but this is also firmly horror. From a production design standpoint, what kind of movies or inspirations did you draw from, both horror and non-horror?
Grace Yun: We’d get together with Ari and we would set up these movie nights. It really varied in genre, and I really loved that. We watched a few Mike Lee films, which were great, and watched the movie Red and 45 Years, which was really one of the main dramas, and Ari said, "For the tones and the fields for the production design, these are the references." But he was never restricting in a sense of being, "Okay, we want this exact moment and that to translate into the design of this house." He was very keen on making a unique look for the film, and that's kind of my notion as well, to make sure the film design, and especially the house, conceptually felt right for everything that was going on in that house.
We have a lot of horror fans at Daily Dead, and are you personally a fan of horror movies? What are some of your favorites, and what scared you as a kid?
Grace Yun: The funny thing that I admitted when I first met Ari was that I'm not well-versed in the horror genre. Ari really liked that I wouldn’t have references I would fall back on, like what you were saying—carbon copies—that I wouldn't visualize this film in that way. That being said, I feel like Rosemary's Baby and The Shining have always been great horror films, but also great dramas and excellent filmmaking in a way that surfaces the story. We did talk about those films and how well the design is incorporated to the characters, and the drama that's happening, and that was really important for Ari to make it feel like you're not just setting the mood, you're filming motifs that are kind of like shifting designs in a way. In the end, we created a lot of layers, so I'm happy that you recognize that.
Written and directed by Ari Aster, Hereditary stars Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd, and Gabriel Byrne. A24 will release the new horror movie in theaters on June 8th.
Stay tuned to Daily Dead for more coverage of Hereditary in the coming days, and in case you missed it, check here for our previous coverage, including Heather Wixson's review and interviews with the cast and crew!