Film Review: MIDSOMMAR (USA 2019) ***

Midsommar Poster
Trailer

A couple travels to Sweden to visit a rural hometown’s fabled mid-summer festival. What begins as an idyllic retreat quickly devolves into an increasingly violent and bizarre competition at the hands of a pagan cult.

Director:

Ari Aster

Writer:

Ari Aster

Writer/director Ari Aster’s follow up to the critically acclaimed and highly successful horror feature HEREDITARY is a sprawling 2 hour 20 minutes occasionally disorienting horror piece that at times forgets that it is a horror movie.

At the special pre-screening of MIDSOMMAR that was graced by the presence of director Aster and actor Jack Reyner, the director describes his film, and very accurately so, about a film on codependency.  It is a break-up story, as the audience also learns that the director himself was undergoing one when he wrote the script.  

At the Q & A, Aster, clearly jet lagged and understandably disoriented  kept beating about the bush when asked direct questions, often taking a full 5 minutes on a straightforward question.     This could be the reason his film stretched out to 140 minutes.  But to Aster’s credit, what the film company A24 planned as a straightforward slasher film set among a Swede cult has turned into something more relevant, human and believable.  Aster did a lot of research on European folklore and history culminating in what can be witnessed as a worthwhile effort.  Though set in Sweden, the film was shot in Budapest, Hungary for financial reasons.

MIDSOMMAR ends up as an engaging folk horror film that follows a group of friends who travel to Sweden for a festival that only occurs once every 90 years.  Christian (Jack Reyner) and Dani (Florence Pugh), a young American couple, are having trouble with their relationship.   The story points out that is a dysfunctional one that should not go on.  Dani is over possessive and Christian is not there for Dani when she needs him most, as when her parents and sister are killed from gas poisoning.  She follows Christian and his friends to a commune in Sweden where the relationship is further put to the test.  As the group stay on, weirder and weirder incidents take place that have to be seen to be believed.  Aster does an excellent build up.

The film is well shot with colourful exteriors – large field in Hungary standing in for Sweden with bright coloured huts of the commune.  The young actors Pugh and Reyner form good chemistry as the dysfunctional couple.  There is an emotional scene where Dani is laid across Christian’s lap crying, bawling her eyes out at the death of her family.  That image is reminiscent of he unforgettable image of the tortured couple in Alfred Hitchcock’s TORN CURTAIN.  But the scene is dark and one cannot see Christian crying as a result of Dani crying.  Actor Reyner during the Q & A confessed he cried as a result of Pugh’s emotional outburst.

Though the film is generally slow, it is even paced and is an absorbing watch.  There has not been such a slow moving film where time actually flies through the films running time.  Aster at the Q & A says that he has several scripts ready to be directed but none of them horror.  His HEREDITARY and MIDSOMMAR are marginally horror films, so nothing much will be changed.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Vnghdsjmd0

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Film Review: HEREDITARY (USA 2018) ***** Top 10

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Hereditary Poster
Trailer

When the matriarch of the Graham family passes away, her daughter’s family begins to unravel cryptic and increasingly terrifying secrets about their ancestry.

Director:

Ari Aster

Writer:

Ari Aster

It is not the story that counts but how the story is told.

HEREDITARY is a psychological supernatural horror film, the best horror film this year, that has a simple, straight forward premise but unfolds brilliantly in all departments.  As the saying goes: “The devil is in the details,” and this adage is evident in every moment and detail found in the film.  One scene has lead character Annie (Toni Colette) find a note after she spills blue paint on the table.  She is seen carrying the note the next scene with the note noticeable with a spot of blue at the edge of it.

The film opens with a shot of a doll house with miniature furniture and figures inside.  The camera closes in to one of the rooms, quite untidy, with a figure under the covers in the bed.  By a hardly noticeable scene change, the room transforms to a real one, as a father, Steve Graham (Gabriel Bryne) enters it.  The miniature furniture and rooms matter as this is the work of the mother, Annie who has the project of miniature art for a gallery.   There are little objects in the miniature house that provide curious interest to those who notice.

When Ellen, the matriarch of the Graham family, passes away, her daughter’s family begins to unravel cryptic and increasingly terrifying secrets about their ancestry.  “My mother was a very private person.  She wasn’t always there, especially at the end.”  Annie says of her mother at the eulogy.   The more they discover, the more they find themselves trying to outrun the sinister fate they seem to have inherited.

Toni Collette delivers an Oscar winning performance.  She has been cast in a lot of nuanced roles lately (MADAME and BIRTHMARKED) but this one shows her true worth.  Though chances are low that one would win an Oscar for a horror flick, one would never know.  Her pleadings: “Please, please, please,” to her husband are genuinely the most desperate as anything I have ever seen.  The other great performance comes from Alex Wolff, who plays Peter, the son. Wolff was unforgettable in MY FRIEND DAHMER where he played the best friend of the serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.

Aster’s HEREDITARY is surprisingly compelling from start to finish.  Though running at 127 minutes, there is not a dull moment.  Aster also devotes almost equal time to each member of the family, allowing to audience to feel both the anguish and desperation of each member.

Aster’s humour is so sly that it often passes by without notice.  The best example is the choice of the ending song played during the closing credits: Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now”, right after the film’s horror climax.  Humour is also provided by the character of the over cheerful, Joan (Ann Dowd), a support group member who introduces Annie to the supernatural.

It is also neat the way the film manipulates the audience in wanting to believe that the supernatural exists.  When Joan introduces Annie to her first seance, the audience wants the spirit to appear.  When Annie insists that her dead daughter’s spirit can be conjured up, the audience wants it to happen.  The sense of audience anticipation is brilliantly created, keeping the audience full attention to the proceedings.  Another example is Annie’s eulogy at the funeral service of her mother, describing her mother but again priming the audience of the horrors to come.

HEREDITARY premiered at Sundance in the Midnight Section.  It is the best horror film so far this year, a big surprise, reminiscent of the surprise horror hit, GET OUT last year.  And the film has been getting rave reviews from almost everywhere it has played. 

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=01NfsDcyEFU&feature=youtu.be

 

 

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