Ari Aster Purposely Tipped His Hat To Don't Look Now With Hereditary

This post contains spoilers for "Don't Look Now" and "Hereditary."

"Don't Look Now" and "Hereditary" are films that stay with you long after viewing. Both feature vivid depictions of the ongoing effects of grief, but director Ari Aster makes a hard turn partway through his 2018 feature debut, veering into supernatural territory as the Graham family discover they've been targeted by the demon Paimon and his cult of followers. In "Don't Look Now," on the other hand, the occult elements, though undoubtedly there, are less overt. Director Nicolas Roeg told The Guardian in 2006:

"Grief can separate people. I've seen it happen. Even the closest, healthiest relationship can come undone through grief. People split up. Or there is a distancing. They can't help it. The fact is that grief doesn't comfort grief. It's just one of those hard facts."

As such, the director allows grief to dictate the horror throughout "Don't Look Now," arguably making the emotional state itself the villain. With "Hereditary," Aster takes a similar tack, depicting the agonizing experience of losing family members, only to then introduce a literal antagonist in the form of Paimon.

But while the two films differ in their handling of their emotional subject, there are many more similarities between them. Aster previously revealed he'd discovered Roeg's films "at an impressionable age" and "been fascinated/terrified/energized by their bottomless mysteries ever since." In fact, he's confirmed that "Don't Look Now" is the film he was "referencing most" with "Hereditary." But not only was he generally inspired by Roeg's masterful Giallo film, he also included an unmistakable visual nod.

Saluting the master

"Don't Look Now" immediately hits you with the death of John (Donald Sutherland) and Laura Baxter's (Julie Christie) daughter, Christine (Sharon Williams) by drowning. Before she falls into the pond on the grounds of the couple's English country home, she's shown running through the foliage, only to wind up beneath the surface after trying to retrieve her ball from the water.

With "Hereditary," Ari Aster paid homage to Nicolas Roeg's haunting prologue by having the daughter of the Graham family, Charlie (Milly Shapiro), wander the backyard of her home wearing a hoodie similar in color to Christine's coat. Charlie is shown walking through the greenery in a scene filled with Roeg-esque shots, including a zoom out from the bird's head in Charlie's hands, hinting at her coming decapitation. That dark foreshadowing and focusing on significant objects is very reminiscent of the "Don't Look Now" director, who used things like the smashing of glass to portend something sinister.

In Aster's scene, there's also an overhead shot that gives an unusual perspective on Charlie's wandering, which is vaguely reminiscent of a shot from the opening of "Don't Look Now." Before Christine falls in the pond, she's shown running along the bank but only her reflection is in frame, so she appears to be running upside down in a grim foreshadowing of her fall into the water. In "Hereditary," we're shown Charlie from a top-down shot that has a similarly eerie effect, focusing on just the girl's head, which will of course soon be lying by the side of the road in what is perhaps the most unsettling scene in "Hereditary." It all adds up to Aster trying to recreate the atmosphere he so admires in "Don't Look Now," which he once characterized as "a warm, uncanny hug of doom."

Rewarding patience

Ari Aster was well aware of what he was doing with scenes like this. But he wasn't just trying to directly lift sequences and shots. His subtle homage to Nicolas Roeg was part of an overall philosophy when making "Hereditary" that emphasized a kind of delicate approach to crafting the terror and the rewards that come with patience. As he told in 2018:

"I wanted to make a film that demanded a certain amount of patience from the audience, but one that intended to pay that off. The challenge for the audience is to sit tight, and the challenge for me is to make sure that they're satisfied at the end."

The film is paced slowly, beginning with a slow pan that sets up the dollhouse metaphor of "Hereditary" and ramping up the tension gradually over the next 126 minutes, until it becomes a full-blown nightmare. And throughout the movie, there are tons of hidden details that, like the "Don't Look Now"-inspired scene, reward close attention. Anyone who hadn't seen Roeg's film would never know Aster was tipping his hat to the director in that particular scene. And anyone who isn't paying close enough attention wouldn't see the various omens and symbols scattered throughout Aster's bleak vision, or the hidden figures lurking in the Graham house. It's these small details and the willingness to pace the horror over the course of the film that make "Hereditary" one of the best horror movies of all time. Nicolas Roeg would be proud.