Hereditary Left Alex Wolff Scarred In More Ways Than One

Ari Aster's "Hereditary," a movie about grief, trauma, and the worshipping of ancient demon spirits, can be a hard film to watch. Whether you're recoiling at Annie Graham's (Toni Collette) magnificent breakdown at her family dinner table or the unfortunate meeting between her daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) and a telephone pole, there is really quite a lot going on in this film to make you think maybe you should have just stuck with the latest episode of "Love is Blind" instead. This is a movie that does not let up with its relentless onslaught of pain and anguish, and it's a wonder that the actors finished filming with their psyches mostly in tact. 

I say "mostly" because Alex Wolff, the actor who plays Annie's son Peter, has spoken openly about the way the film's intense storyline and demanding physical scenes affected him after production wrapped. 

As Wolff's character Peter becomes increasingly possessed by the demon god Paimon, he begins exhibiting very unusual behavior. Perhaps most memorable is the scene in which a possessed Peter brutally slams his own face into his school desk over and over and over again, obviously breaking his nose while also scaring the ever living s*** out of his fellow classmates. It's a rough scene to even watch, but when you realize all that Wolff had to go through to film this, the scene's brutality becomes even more disturbing.

Suffering for your art

In an article for The Wrap, Wolff revealed that he was always 100% committed to making sure the desk scene was as realistic as possible. He told Aster that he was totally willing to actually turn his face into mush for the sake of art, but Aster, while appreciative, gently explained to him that allowing Wolff to actually flatten his face like a pancake on screen was "an illegal thing to do." Still, you have to admire the guy's dedication. Instead, Aster said they would use a specially designed desk for the self-inflicted beating, a softer, cushion-like desk meant to make Wolff's experience as pleasant as possible (lol). However, right before filming, Wolff realized that the desk was definitely not as soft as he had assumed and was in fact actually much more desk-like than he would have preferred. "I don't know what I expected, but I expected maybe a foam desk or something and, really, it was not that," he told The Wrap.

Wolff went on to explain,

It had a foam top but it was hard on the bottom and there were only two of them, and I had to nail it perfectly," he added. "I had to have the blood shoot out perfectly out of my nose and jump back and do that whole thing. I remember after, I was just panting, my voice is gone, blood is dripping down everywhere, and blood is gushing down my knee — real blood gushing down my knee because I slammed it against a chair. I couldn't move my arm, my complete ankle was swollen — it looked like a balloon.  

Major yikes, y'all. 

Needless to say, there's no doubt the filming of this scene had a profound effect on Wolff and his noggin, both of which will most likely never be able to set foot in a classroom again. 

Filming traumatic movies can affect mental health

But it wasn't just Wolff's head that took a beating during the filming of "Hereditary." It was also his mental well being. In an interview for Looper, he said, "I'll tell you that movie did about as much damage to me as a movie can do." The damage he's talking about was apparently insomnia and psychological damage, among other things. This doesn't come as that much of a surprise when you consider some of the horrifying things Wolff had to film, the beheading of his sister Charlie being arguably the most traumatic. 

Not wanting to make light of mental health, Wolff went on to explain that, "It's very hard because as an actor, you really don't want to sound pretentious or self-serious or like anything is too serious" seemingly trying to prevent people from thinking he was overdramatizing the effect "Hereditary" had on his psyche. "We have a cushy job in a lot of ways," he said, "But this, emotionally, it was one of those tough ones, it was one of those ones that really did some gymnastics on my emotional well-being." Truthfully, I think anyone having to watch their mother — on-screen or real life — casually cut off their own head with a piano string while floating in the corner of a room would definitely need some time to decompress after witnessing such a disturbing act. 

Real or imaginary, the things that happen in "Hereditary" can definitely be hard to process, and for the actors having to make those scenes come to life, the effects can be astronomically overwhelming. Thankfully, it seems like Wolff has mostly recovered from his time on the "Hereditary" set, but it sounds like the experience of that film will stick with him for a long time to come.