Herman's Cure-All Tonic (Ari Aster, 2008, USA)

Herman's Cure-All Tonic, made in 2008, is the first short film by director Ari Aster. The film was made for the AFI Conservatory. The film opens with a shot of the titular tonic, panning downward. The film takes place in a kind of pharmacy, where Harold is being yelled at by his supervisor to "get the mixture right!" Harold, a young man with a pallid complexion, approaches the counter and fills a prescription for a customer. His abusive boss - who we learn is his dad - is sitting in the back watching TV while his son works. 

The relationship between Harold and his father is unhealthy, to say the least. The customer complains that the tonic is not the same since Harold took over for his father. Harold closes up shop for the night, turning off the TV in the pharmacy's back room. Hearing a noise behind him of dripping water, he turns to see that a green liquid is leaking from his father's bloated stomach and into the floor. Harold dabs his finger at the liquid coming from his father's stomach and attempts to plug the wound and clean it up. Harold bottles the fluid in tonic bottles. 

It is the next morning and Harold is dealing with the same irritable customer. The customer spots the bottle on the counter, and she wants to buy it. The customer soon returns and reveals that she has finished the new "tonic" - she claims that the tonic has made her feel wonderful and wants two more. As it turns out, the new tonic is a true best-seller. Herman's Cure-All Tonic reveals the by-turns comic and horrific styles that Aster would pursue in later works. It bears the weaknesses of a student film, but it is worth watching for those interested in the progression of his filmography.



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