Alex Wolff: Hereditary ‘did some gymnastics on my emotional well-being’

Alex Wolff
I love horror movies and series and I’ve watched so many of them. I hated Hereditary, and I would have walked out halfway but my ex boyfriend, who to his credit hated it too, convinced me to stay. He kept thinking it would get better. The audience was visibly uncomfortable and complaining about it with us as we left. It was not just a bad horror movie, those can be fun, it felt deliberately emotionally manipulative. There are scenes from that movie that make my stomach flip when I remember them. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to perform some of those scenes multiple times. Alex Wolff starred, along with Toni Collette and Gabriel Byrn. Wolff told Looper that his emotional well being was affected by working on Hereditary. He was careful to say that he realizes how privileged he is as an actor and said he doesn’t want to complain about his job. Here are some of his quotes via People and there are spoilers in this:

Alex Wolff did not come away unscathed from the deeply terrifying Hereditary.

Wolff starred in the 2018 horror as Peter, a teenager whose life unravels after he accidentally kills his sister and ends up possessed by a demon’s spirit that haunts his family.

In a new interview, Wolff, 23, says starring in director Ari Aster’s film left him with psychological damage, including loss of sleep.

“I’ll tell you that movie did about as much damage to me as a movie can do,” Wolff told Looper, adding that the experience “really affected me.”

The actor shared that he’s had a hard time opening up about the lasting effects because he doesn’t want to sound ungrateful for starring in the hit film.

“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,” Wolff said. “Because we have a cushy job in a lot of ways, 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.”

Many of you liked Hereditary and I’ve heard good things about Midsommar, but you could not pay me to sit through another Ari Aster movie. The ending of Hereditary was particularly egregious. That film exploited a family’s grief and twisted it into something ridiculous and devoid of entertainment. Before I saw this interview it didn’t even occur to me how rough it must have been for the actors. Alex was 20 when the film came out but the young woman who played his sister, Milly Shapiro, was just turning 16. I wonder how she’s doing.

On a lighter note, Wolff is now starring in M. Night Shyamalan’s Old, which I really want to see. Even when Shyamalan’s movies aren’t that great, they’re still worth watching and they’re entertaining without being too disturbing.

Update: Milly Shapiro is on TikTok and she recorded a video sort-of addressing this. Thanks Valentina!

Actor Alex Wolff arrives at the 2nd Annual Los Angeles Online Film Critics Society Award Ceremony held at the Taglyan Cultural Complex on January 9, 2019 in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by David Acosta/Image Press Agency)

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55 Responses to “Alex Wolff: Hereditary ‘did some gymnastics on my emotional well-being’”

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  1. Case says:

    I love (some types of) horror movies, but I read what happened in this film and it was too disturbing for me. This was a heavy topic, and I’m sure that takes a toll on the people acting it out!

    • rainbowkitty says:

      Now I have to look it up. I can’t do horror movies but I’m curious now.

      • Case says:

        If you find a detailed synopsis it will STICK WITH YOU. Hahaha.

      • Xoxo says:

        I hates that movie. I stopped watching about halfway through.

      • DogMom says:

        I knew I would never be able to watch the film and read a detailed synopsis (because I still wanted to know what happened, lol) and just the description of what happens gave me chills and has stayed with me till this day.

    • pottymouth pup says:

      like @celebitchy’s SO, I forced myself to sit through the whole thing assuming that the ending would tie it up in a warped but logical conclusion. Had more thought been put into it, it could have been a wickedly clever story but it just ended up being here’s some shit with no rhyme or reason, not even in conclusion and an utter waste of what felt like 3 years of viewing time

  2. JanetDR says:

    Loved him in Jumanji! I don’t do horror. I can read some scary things but I can’t watch them.

    • SarahCS says:

      That’s where I recognise him from! Thank you. I enjoyed that film way more than I was expecting to, it’s become a favourite.

    • Dierski says:

      Yes! He was great in Jumanji- I watched it with my kiddo, and i ended up loving it! I am not a big horror watcher either, and in this case I’m glad I missed that one.

  3. Valentina says:

    Milly Shapiro is actually on TikTok and she made this video which…. poor love

    • Celebitchy says:

      This is a good update I will add it Valentina. She’s so cute I feel bad for her.

      • Valentina says:

        She’s got such a great punk style nowadays – especially in her other videos, I think she looks amazing and I hope she’s doing well.

  4. Jax says:

    Midsommar was a real throwback to 70s style movie making in the best possible way. They don’t usually make films like that anymore.

    • JJ says:

      I really loved Midsommar, though my brain did keep flashing back to the worst scenes for at least two weeks and my husband will absolutely NEVER WATCH IT AGAIN and openly flinches when its mentioned. Still, I recommend it to everyone who can tolerate horrors…

  5. Nikki Jasmine says:

    I’m a huge fan of horror movies and I’ve seen quite a variety, and I absolutely loved Hereditary. I thought it was one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen. To each their own I suppose.

    • dromedary says:

      Same. I loved Hereditary. It’s one of those movies that sticks in my head, same with Midsommar.

    • Irene says:

      Yes, I loved Hereditary also. It is a very visceral film. Alex as Peter total shut down after the accident and laying in bed all night and then Toni’s character screaming after discovering her daughter’s body still haunts me.

      Was meh about Midsommar though.

    • lily says:

      I loved it, too. It goes off the rails in the end, in the best way possible.

  6. Maria says:

    Christ, I’m not surprised. This movie disturbed me for weeks (I loved it though!)

    The film and its writers weren’t exploiting the family in my opinion. The cult (headed by Toni Collette’s character’s mother) was. That was the point – they were all (in Princess Diana’s words) lambs to the slaughter from their own matriarch and they didn’t even know it. It’s the same message as “The Shining” and one of the reasons it’s scary each time you watch it – that someone who is supposed to love and protect you is bent on your destruction (a theme I think we all know, even if not in a horror film sense).

    • Case says:

      Having just read a lot about the movie because I’m too afraid to watch it (lol) I agree with this. I love horror because it often explores human emotion and different situations in a way straight-up drama cannot. Rather than an exploitation of grief, I see it as an exploration of it.

      And you’re absolutely right about The Shining; it’s the only movie that leaves me practically shaking by the time it’s over every time I watch it.

    • Jenna says:

      You are also watching, in The Shining, the complete physical, mental, and emotional collapse of an actor in real time at the hands of a maniacally abusive director.

      • Valerie says:

        Yep. Poor Shelley. His treatmentof her and her reaction to it are also documented in the behind-the-scenes footage. He did *not* treat Nicholson the same way.

      • Maria says:

        Yes, that too.
        Unfortunately, this is and was much more common than just with Kubrick. It was considered perfectly normal for almost all of film history and to many directors still is. Alfred Hitchcock, Quentin Tarantino, William Friedkin, David O. Russell, Bernardo Bertolucci, Lars Von Trier, James Cameron, David Fincher, Roman Polanski, Akira Kurosawa…they are all guilty of the same abuse. And the list goes on.
        I would venture a great deal of films involved this type of breakdown. Shelley is just the one we know about in most detail.
        Cinema is a messed-up world.

    • Gerald says:

      I read early reviews when this movie came out, I finally made myself watch it a few months ago. I don’t like scary/disturbing movies much (and this one was almost up there with the Exorcist which I think is the scariest/most disturbing movies I’ve seen), but I do appreciate a well made/original movie. This movie is so extremely well done, it is a really great film. The cast is ridiculously good, it blew me away. Is it disturbing, you bet it is. Will I watch it again? I hope not!
      Knowing that the Actor in question was traumatized by the experience makes this disturbing movie, even more disturbing. This guy is a great actor, his performance in the final scene left me speechless, until now, haha. I’ve thought about this movie over the past few months, and I almost never do that.

  7. Kc says:

    I loathed ‘Heriditary’ but loved ‘Midsommar’. I completely agree that H felt manipulative in a bad way and it took me a solid week to shake it.

  8. kgeo says:

    I can’t tell if I loved it or not, but sometimes when I close my eyes I see that scene where she beats her head against the attic door and then I can’t sleep. I guess I don’t see what was manipulative about it though. I mean, I get the psychological damage, that movie was f’d up, but I don’t feel like any ethical or moral boundaries were crossed in showing how a families grief could be manipulated by a cult. Rosemary’s baby manipulated a mother’s love, but it doesn’t give me nightmares so I guess that’s different.

  9. Shoop says:

    Hereditary was one of the few truly horrific films I’ve seen, so I thought it was a very good horror movie. So bored of all the dross that usually fills the genre; Hereditary occupies the same kind of space as the exorcist. It’s so much more than the usual tired jump scares and tropes.

  10. Kristen says:

    “I remember asking Toni Collette after a Hereditary screening something like, ‘how did you manage to deal with a role as traumatic as this?’ and she cheerily responded ‘well, it’s just a movie.’”

    • FancyPants says:

      Oh my gosh, that scene of her grieving her daughter in the movie, screaming that she wanted to die, was absolutely heartbreaking and I remember thinking she would have won all the awards if it wasn’t a horror movie.

  11. Carol says:

    I went to see the movie Old. It was so bad. The acting was horrible, and the movie was laughable. Don’t waste your money.

  12. Teebee says:

    I didn’t love Hereditary, but it was so unusual as a horror film. I saw the comments about it being the scariest movie ever, and it coloured my initial viewing. I kept waiting for the scary. Instead to me it was very disturbing, but so well acted I was quite mesmerized. All of the actors completely embodied their roles, I did think that the film must have been very difficult to make. I came away impressed, felt like I had seen the voice of a new and talented director.

    Midsommar cemented in my mind that Ari Aster is made to make films. It’s hard to describe what I like so much about his films. It might be the way he builds tension, his films are a slow burn, but they’re beautiful in such a subversive and sinister way. And he is brilliant at casting.

    I feel for this actor though. Enough actors over the years have shared negative stories and experiences with directors, each one makes me uncomfortable. I don’t want my entertainment to come at the cost of another’s well-being. I don’t think actors, just because they’re well-paid and in such a glamorous profession should be taken advantage of or mistreated. No industry should be allowed to get away with that. It’s interesting how we are horrified at sexual assault and harassment in the film industry, rightly so, but perhaps still need to be just as concerned with extreme filming issues. It’s a very thin line between an audience needing thrills and the roller coaster and the actors risking too much to supply it…

  13. TabithaD says:

    I was intrigued and unsettled by Hereditary, and it was in my mind for days after watching it. I even watched it a second time, and it made sense in a completely different way on the second watch. It’s not an easy film and it really divides viewers, but I do like to watch something that challenges me (so few films do that these days), and this certainly did that. I wouldn’t say I loved it exactly, but then it is a difficult watch.
    I did love Midsommar though.

  14. SNF says:

    I think something can be challenging without being manipulative. I mean, a horror movie asking you to feel deep existential horror about some thing that is actually horrific (family trauma) in a way you’re usually not asked is manipulative? I don’t really buy that. Movies feel manipulative and abusive to their audiences when the Horror serves absolutely no purpose to the narrative (e.g. Walking Dead) and it’s just there to be there and I don’t believe that’s true of Hereditary. I think the Director was just using the tools of cinema to talk about some thing that is actually super super incredibly horrific. LOL can you tell I’m traumatized by my family?

  15. Hell Nah! says:

    I love horror movies. I hated Hereditary. Bought into the hype and, being a horror, I was going to watch it anyway but…it was, as other posters have commented, not only horrifying (in parts), but a very challenging and disturbing film to stomach. It stayed with me for some time after viewing but, at the same time, I recall laughing through parts of it because some scenes were so over-the-top, the only credible response to them was laughter at the ridiculousness my eyes were viewing.

    Interesting to see the division of opinion on this and I absolutely can imagine this one leaving a mark on its actors.

    • Jenna says:

      Aster has described Hereditary as a black comedy. Absurdity is sometimes very effective satire.

      • TabithaD says:

        That makes sense to me actually. There was some dark humour there (very very dark), and also in Midsommar (where it was a bit more obvious).

    • Winechampion says:

      I guess I don’t understand the “so disturbing” comments—I thought both Hereditary and Midsommar were total camp. I laughed my ass off during both. Especially the Midsommar sex hut scene. Absolute riot.

  16. one of the Marys says:

    I don’t know why but this is the funniest sentence I’ve read all week, just rolls off the tongue doesn’t it 😉
    “a teenager whose life unravels after he accidentally kills his sister and ends up possessed by a demon’s spirit”

  17. Valerie says:

    Hereditary was a good movie, but not one I have the desire to watch again. I watched for Gabriel Byrne, and he was excellent, as was everyone else. But it is a lot to handle.

  18. Jenna says:

    Toni Collette’s work in Hereditary is just … transcendentally good. The entire cast is amazing — Wolff’s school scene, with the desk? JFC — but Collette is a singular acting marvel who doesn’t get nearly enough credit.

    All entertainment is manipulative. Artists provoke, audiences react. I find Shyamalan’s twists-that-aren’t-really-twists tedious. (Anyone who tries to sell me the obvious ridiculousness of Mark Wahlberg as a math teacher in what has got to be one of the stupidest movies ever made goes on my “NOPE” list and stays there.)

    People bring their own histories (baggage?) to a story like Hereditary, and for any woman who has dead-of-night questioned if what we surrender and put up with to be mothers is ever really worth it, this movie is a gut punch.

    • Teebee says:

      Love your take. And I agree 10000% about Toni Collette. Currently my favourite actor. She disappears in every role. It’s hard to fathom the range she has.

      • Jenna says:

        Thanks! The standout scene for me was when Collette spits the line “I never wanted to be your mother” at Wolff and then claps her hands over her mouth in utter horror at what she’s just spoken aloud. It’s like a slap across the face, and according to reviewers, that one scene got by far the biggest reaction from theatergoers.

        Collette somehow made that level of hollowed-out rage not just believable, but viscerally terrifying.

        Every time someone praises The Shining as a gold standard of American horror, I remember that’s the movie where Stanley Kubrick (with Jack Nicholson’s help) broke Shelley Duvall just because he could. So I hope Wolff is getting the help and support that he needs to process his experience with the role. He should be very proud of his work.

      • clarabelle says:

        I’m a Toni fan too. If you missed it (and nearly everybody did), her acting in a 2003 movie, JAPANESE STORY is absolutely transcendent. The whole movie was transcendent, one of my favorite ever.

    • DiegoInSF says:

      Yes! She deserved an Oscar but outside of Get Out, horror has always been overlooked by serious critics, ugh.

    • Keats says:

      Yeah Alex is really great in the final scenes of the movie too (I can’t say what happens without ruining it) but the way he delivers his lines really stuck with me. So heartbreaking. I hope he’ll be ok

  19. neaturalist says:

    It’s funny, I saw Hereditary when it first came out and last night in bed I was actually thinking about it and scared myself! I found it absolutely horrifying, especially as someone who was raised Catholic (anything demon-related is terrifying to me). The dread and hopelessness this movie evokes is unparalleled. I don’t think I could watch it again but I thought it was very well done. Toni Collette is incredible in it, so is Ann Dowd (who also plays the very frightening Aunt Lydia in the Handmaid’s Tale). Midsommar on the other hand I’ve watched at least 5 times. It’s visually stunning, shocking, and the ending is so satisfying.

  20. Jezebeelzebub says:

    Im still not sure if I feel like Hereditary is a *scary* movie, but I am 100% positive that movie is FUCKED UP. After I finished watching it, I just kinda sat there for a minute trying to get my head together. I felt like I had been mugged or something. It was weird. I watched once- I’m good for the rest of my life, I never have to watch it again. And I’m completly fine with never seeing Midsommer. That director ain’t getting me again, no thanks.

  21. DiegoInSF says:

    I loved this movie and watched it several times in theaters, brought friends along who they all loved it too. It is unsettling but I love dark movies that make you FEEL and elicit a strong reaction. Liked it much better than Midsommar.

  22. JillyBean says:

    Midsommar was amazing. Haven’t seen this one yet..

  23. So says:

    The most disturbing work I ever watched from Ari Aster is his short movie ‘The strange thing about the Jonhsons’ (you can find it for free on Vimeo). Not a scary movie but really really f*cked up.

  24. Mimi says:

    I can see why i liked the movie but it was a lot. Side note: I saw OLD and it was really good, I recommend it.

  25. Lyds says:

    Totally w the people who liked Midsommer and hated Hereditary. Somehow Midsommer was utterly believable in it’s descent into chaos; the way they depicted the blurred lines between drugs, dreams, nightmares and the reality of a terrifying cult was extremely effective and evocative.

    Hereditary on the other hand, did feel like visual abuse of disturbing scene after scene. The ending was lame and I didn’t believe that such a family existed; what kind of mother would make that kind of diorama? It was absolutely done for shock value and extremely poorly done at that. No one is okay in that family so it seems extremely unlikely that they would’ve survived in the world for that long.

  26. Mee yo says:

    Am I the only one who laughed through most of Midsommar??? By the time the main guy had to sleep with the cult girl surrounded by all the cult women…I was rolling on the floor. And I hate horror movies