Tag Archives: Ari Aster

Ari Aster’s Midsommar

I didn’t expect to be saying this but Ari Aster’s Midsommar is, for the most part, a colossal waste of time and talent. It sucks to have to bash this given my level of anticipation for a follow up to Hereditary which is one of the most effectively terrifying films I’ve ever seen, but this thing not only pales in comparison but just kind of cavorts about in broad daylight for an excessively bloated runtime, provides *no* effective scares and then just… ends.

The most successful and engaging scenes show up in the first ten minutes of the film: after a harrowing tragedy that wipes out the family of Dani (Florence Pugh), the camera swoops through an open window to observe a snowy winter landscape while the minimalist opening credits appear, accented by an eerie score. It’s a haunting prologue that sets atmosphere and tone like nobody’s business… and then the resulting film falls flat on its inbred face. This thing was marketed more aggressively than the super bowl so by now you know the drill: Dani is accompanying her neglectful boyfriend (Jack Reynor) to a remote Swedish commune where one of their friends has ancestral roots. They aim to study these amiable pagan bumpkins for an anthropological thesis but it soon turns out they’re anything but amiable and in fact they’ve wandered into a freaky occult ritual as unwilling participants.

So, what works here? The beautifully off kilter score, for one. The cinematography, fascinating production design and undeniably striking artistry in costumes are all wonderful on their own terms. Pugh’s performance is deeply felt when the script allows for it to develop properly, but see that brings me to the fucking many things that don’t work. The film is two and a half hours long which it just absolutely doesn’t need to be, and for most of that time we’re forced to watch this ridiculous group of insane loonies and their absurd customs play out for so long that any semblance of story gets lost in maypole dancing, sustained singing and all manner of ritualistic bullshit. Here’s the thing with Hereditary versus this film: in the former, real life trauma was used to gild and intertwine with the esoteric external threat for an oppressive, unbearably down to earth yet somehow also otherworldly experience, both sides of the coin proving effective as all hell. With this film the grounded trauma is shown early on and then cheerfully abandoned for a flower adorned theme park ride of empty, hollow Wicker Man shenanigans that don’t address, conjure up or call back to our protagonist’s trauma in any way whatsoever, and that is key in this film’s resounding failure. Dani has been through the kind of event (I won’t spoil it) that is so horrific and traumatic that it either drives a person mad, to suicide or in some cases births the kind of resilience so that they may rise above it, gain strength and unlock a new facet of their being. This film allows her none of that, betraying a real, tangible story for something lost up in the clouds doing its own dumb dumb thing for goddamn forever until you just want to call in an air strike on the whole commune and firebomb this dreary set of non-events from existence. What. A. Mess.

In closing I’d like to recommend a far better pagan folk horror tale that has more torque under its hood than this turd: Gareth Evans’s Apostle, a frightening tale of another outsider finding madness in a small occult community, you’ll be glad you chose that over Midsommar’s ingratiating lack of focus or vision.

-Nate Hill

“Why did you try to kill me?” A review of Hereditary – by Josh Hains

I do not hate, or dislike, Hereditary. I do not like it either, though I do avidly admire it. To clarify, it is difficult for me to say I like a movie that is so atmospherically dour, so tonally bleak, and so disturbingly grotesque, that makes me feel like I need to bathe in molten lava to burn away the residue of it. However, it’s easy for me to say I admire nearly everything about it.

The same can be said for similarly dark and bleak cinematic ventures like Sicario, You Were Never Really Here (my current vote for the best film of 2018), and Annihilation, to name a trio. Hereditary is as joyless an experience as they come, which makes it inherently difficult to for me recommend to friends of mine whose humongous appetites for horror are in desperate need of some quenching. This isn’t your archetypal, audience friendly and accessible popcorn horror flick one could take a date to and enjoy being scared from, complete with ample cheap or earned jump scares (such as The Conjuring), or heaps of deliciously over the top gory carnage (like in The Cabin in the Woods). I don’t find Hereditary scary per se, just unsettling and disturbing, much like iconic but hollow The Shining.

It is however, the kind of intricate, meticulously crafted psychological horror movie that uptight horror cinema snobs are constantly reminding the rest of us that Hollywood so rarely constructs and releases these days. Nearly every facet of the movie, from the performances (Toni Collette is truly Oscar worthy with her passionately raw performance of a fractured soul) to the cinematography to the editing to the eerie sound design, is handled with top notch laser guided precision worthy of the heaps of praise it’s received for months now since its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 21st. It might not be the best horror movie of the year (which is easily A Quiet Place by miles), or the best movie of the year for that matter (that’d be a huge stretch, considering that honour should most definitely be bestowed upon You Were Never Really Here), but it’s certainly a great little horror picture in its own right.

As great as those and other elements are, the movie becomes dreadfully problematic in the script department after the initial 45 minutes or so. Initially, the movie has absolutely no problem both setting and maintaining a particular psychological horror aura, which is rather sadly, gradually pushed to the side after a major event in the first half hour of the movie, in favour of typical paranormal horror elements. This leads to an ending (that will go unspoiled here), that despite being set-up right from scene one onward, and makes sense to the overarching narrative that’s been told leading up to that point, feels ported over from The Witch (another horror release by the same studio that produced Hereditary, A24), and that doesn’t match the tone of everything that’s come beforehand, and requires one too many suspensions of disbelief in the laughably ludicrous twists. Aside from the tonality issues derived from an unnatural shift in the tone at the midway point in the movie, and a nearly unforgivably ridiculous tacked on ending that doesn’t gel with the rest of the movie, Hereditary is a masterful psychological horror movie bound for the glory of classic horror movie status, though those tonality and ending issues will likely haunt it for decades to come.

As I observed in an article I can’t recall the source of a couple of days ago regarding Hereditary, it’s the “other kind” of horror film, the meticulously crafted, bleak, and unrewarding kind, a rare find these days. The film studio A24 (whom released Hereditary, The Witch, and It Comes At Night), along with Paramount (who’ve also had divided reaction with mother, Annihilation, and the Cloverfield series) and others, seem passionately keen on continuing to churn out these more obscure and psychologically perplexing and taxing horror movies.

I don’t blame them for wanting to.