Over a decade ago as an unemployed, young 20-something man-child, I sat on my backside every day, all day, watching movies, often inebriated. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, I don’t remember much from those days. Though funnily enough, I remember Memento vividly despite having major memory issues myself.
I also recall that someone online, or someone in person… it doesn’t matter who really: I came across the ideal phrase to describe the kind of movie that I always had loved, and forever will. Could it be a genre of its own? Despite often combining traditional genres to achieve its mind-f*ckery, I think it could be, and should be. At least in my mind-f*cked opinion. It is a type of film that will always surprise, is often unpredictable, and thoroughly bores itself into one’s cranium.
A mind-f*ck movie.
Two words to describe the exact type of movie I enjoy the most, films that consistently seem to stand the test of time and play out as the moniker suggests.
I quickly searched the term and the first result was a perfect hit, a simple site that alphabetically listed 200-300 films. The title at the top was made up of two familiar words.
This was the first time I had ever read about the likes Polanski, Argento, Kubrick, Gilliam, Cronenberg, and countless others. A completely new world of film. Using the list as a guide, I’d rent 10-15 movies every week, continuing to sit on my backside every day, however, I was now focused on the films rather than avoiding sobriety.
Fast forward to 2018, and enter Ari Aster. In less than two years, he seems to have taken this concept and claimed it as his own. He has created a level of sheer min-f*ckery that twisted this ‘genre’ (as well as the modern horror film) to new heights.
Hereditary clearly displayed a director confident in his writing and directorial intentions while truly screwing with viewers minds; one scene in particular is till in my head. Last year, Midsommar expanded on a unique visual style that Aster has quickly established. As a writer/director – a combination that we need much more of – he of course has also established an ability to surprise and to, ahem, f*ck minds, including mine, one that was, and is, thoroughly disturbed.
The film kicks off with a very dark and cold bang, and this darkness in tone remains relentless for the entire film despite its juxtaposition with bright sunny visuals and the incredibly disturbing events that transpire.
The beginning finds Dani’s sister, and parents, dead. A fantastic way to start a film of this nature. The scene looks like her sister intentionally gassed not just herself, but her parents too. It is brutal but unclear: we are never explicitly told. Minutes in and after Dani witnesses this, as if in a nightmare, she is obviously shaken into an appropriate fit of wailing and crying. She is now alone within her no family.
She calls her boyfriend, the only person left in her life she loves, but the love is based on her loneliness. Needing emotional support, she gets nothing as Christian is moronic, brainless boyfriend with a crumbling brick for a brain, a constant throughout the film. If anything, he amazingly becomes dumber and dumber, as if the brink is made of dirt.
But if she dumps him, who is left in her life?
One of Ari’s trademarks is his his DPs’ very deliberate camerawork. To begin Hereditary, the camera slowly pans over a miniature model of her house, a fantastic way to illustrate the mother’s mental state: why miniature models? Is that how she feels within her family? Aster has an keen eye for subtle, symbolic moments like this that often take several viewings just to notice. The ending to Hereditary is an obvious exception, as far from subtle as possible. But what does it mean? It is again psychologically dark, unique and very, very strange. It is an important opening scene, captured perfectly as the tree house looms in the back ground outside.
The same applies to Midsommar, the single take and the slow movement forward over the scene of her dead family are done is such a way that they tell their own story without the need for words. Working with the same DP as his first film, Pawel Pogorzelski, is an obvious advantage.
Side note: What is it about Polish cinematographers? Every second DP I read about seems to be Polish. Whatever the reason is, they are certainly competent behind the camera!!
The story told by the camera suits the story well: long takes sweep slowly over the dead bodies, but pay no attention to these lifeless people on screen, not focusing on any one of them. It is deliberately cold and unemotional. Soon, more deliberately paced camera movement establishes a similar narrative. Dani is wailing on a couch having witnessed her lifeless family, trying to find comfort from Christian, who clearly does not want o be there.
Much like the dead bodies in the earlier scene, the camera doesn’t pay attention to the tears, the cries of uncertainty, the two characters on the couch. Rather it treats the two as pieces of furniture, barely focusing on Dani. It gradually moves over her and Christian in a way that seems to dismiss Dani’s situation, casually ignoring her cries.
Appropriately, snow is falling outside as the camera stops moving and locks onto a window, and in a small stroke of genius, this is where the title of the film appears as heavy snow falls behind it. This camerawork alone establishes a cold and dark atmosphere that lingers throughout the film, the bright Midsommar festival be damned.
Unlike Hereditary, Midsommar moves into much more psychologically challenging territory. This is a true horror film, as it will horrify you. The psychological angle becomes the core of the film as the group of friends try to understand why they are required to do certain things, and more so, why the people of the commune act in the way they do. Not to mention, the visitors to the commune begin to disappear one by one.
The unforgettable scene where two of the Hårga people jump off a cliff where jagged rock is waiting for them is the only bloody scene, and its horrifying and surprisingly nature, its intensity, is amplified by the contrast of the complete lack of blood before and after the rest movie. The visitors are unsurprisingly disgusted and act as much.
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I dunno Jordan. I admire Ari Aster as a technical director (and share his appreciation for Bergman and Haneke films), but as a storyteller his movies strike me as immature, too obsessed with violent images and lurid twists and shocks of violence rather than real physiological horror. I much enjoyed the first half of Hereditary and the first twenty or thirty minutes of Midsommar but when the former embraces typical supernatural tropes of the horror genre and the latter becomes a riff on The Wicker Man/And Then There Were None is when they lose me. Both movies start out with a lot of promise, focusing on a violent family trauma and leaving both the characters and viewer to deal with the aftermath, that quickly devolves into horror fetishes.
Regardless, this is a fine write-up Jordan, and so people do not get too angry at my objections, I will argue that Aster is very good with actors (and as you mentioned, Pogorzelski’s cinematography is top-notch).
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I can see where you are coming from. Though there is a distinctive lack of blood in Midsommar, apart from a single scene. Then it turns some interesting commentary on paganism, hallucinogens as well as the paintings forecasting what is to come. But I won’t reveal too much ;P
Definitely a riff on the Wickerman, but. the elements of Paganism and dare I say small amounts of Christianity helps it stand out to me. I agree though that Hereditary was more in the vein of the supernatural etc. That is one I must watch more as I’ve seen this one ten odd times and I think I’ve picked up a lot that goes against what supposed symbology (sorry, symbolism 😛 😛 hehe I couldn’t help it, I love the Boondock Saints) ‘experts’ seem to say. Well, some of it does. Some of it is kinda self explanatory
I dunno if you’ve only seen it once but I’d give Midsommar another go, there is a lot of stuff you don’t pick up on the first time around.
For me the fact that… actually I just posted second second part and don’t want to spoil what I wrote haha, which sounds so silly now that I read that back.
However you know films 10x better than I do. Didn’t you pick up on the real villain of this?
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Interestingly enough, I came out of Midsommar really liking it, thinking it was a big improvement over Hereditary. But after a few days I kind of soured on the film. But I might just try watching it again to see if I change my mind.
Although it’s not blood-filled in its entire runtime, I did find the violence that was there to be gratuitous, particularly with the shed sequence. It struck me more as a means to shock audiences than it actually needed to be there.
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Hmmm I get that, I’ve chatted with some people about similar things.
What I see (I’d love to hear if you have any thoughts on my second to posts about this btw) though is… wait, I’ll say first that I am usually not a fan of symbolism in movies and that sorta thing, but I really loved that stuff here cos it wasn’t trying to be hidden like ‘easter eggs’, it was kinda obvious that was what he was aiming for partly, some more that others of course
That scene you talk about, 100% agree its gratuitous. But how I see it is.. well, the guy’s name is Christian. Paganism and all the similar religions of that time were, well essentially burned to the ground by Christianity. And of course they stole stuff like 25 December, the cross… hahaha don’t get me started on that stuff. But yeah I saw it like that, so imo it needed to be gratuitous. Paganism and several other similar religions are completely gone now because of Christianity, and the guys name was was Christian. Heh I dunno, I just though that was a cool touch, but hey I could be totally wrong.
But you gotta agree it was a total mindfuck of a movie. My favourite genre 😉
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