MIDSOMMAR WRECKED ME

MIDSOMMAR wrecked me. Don’t get me wrong there’s catharsis in this film and even that isn’t entirely fulfilling. It’s the journey to get there that’s excruciating and exhausting. This is very much a superior “horror” film one I may rank up there with Lars Van Trier’s ANTICHRIST. Yeah, that one wrecked me too. There’s just some imagery you can never shake or erase from your memory ever and this is the power in Ari Aster’s films. I saw that in HEREDITARY and I should have known that going into MIDSOMMAR. Oh, silly me. There’s so much psychological warfare it nearly blurs the line at times where you question your own sanity and moments where you begin to recalibrate your own dating history. Ughh! Did anyone else get flashbacks of your own personal demons you battled in the past? They like to slowly creep in except this time, I attempted to mentally combat them with an imaginary constructed house of defense just like Jami Lee Curtis did in the HALLOWEEN reboot. She was armed and ready for Michael Meyers’ return. Silliness aside, I can’t think of a better film I’ll see this year. (I’m talking about MIDSOMMAR not HALLOWEEN) I guess that’s what happens when Hollywood is on a superhero bender and Disney hooking its greedy mouse claws in owning every major studio that ever was. (I’m still in shock they bought 20th Century Fox) Yeah, its seriously sad times in the entertainment industry. Aside from the gloom, I’m grateful A24 exists. In fact, I’ll probably only watch A24 distributed films from here on out because they know how to satisfy their particular audiences. Well, that and the Criterion Collection obviously. Cinephile mecca!

So the epitome of hell in MIDSOMMAR is that its a two-and-a-half-hour journey of taking mushrooms, while enduring the death of a relationship, all sprinkled on top with a commune celebrating its festival that occurs every 90 years in Sweden. Oh and your friends are invited to partake in this as well. I’m sure this makes the Swedes roll their eyes and laugh at Americans overdramatizing their sacred pagan rituals into a horror story when in reality the true horror resides in how our characters’ treat each other. That’s right I went into full over analytical mode and found when I separated the whole religious denominator divided by the emotional/rational bandwidth of these characters minus the actions they took, I came to the conclusion (with the exception of Dani’s character) that most of the male characters are self-absorbed aided by their own selfishness which equates to their own demise. Guess it never pays to be selfish.

MIDSOMMAR is magical in a sense of delighting its audience into the wonder beyond a community that wholeheartedly believes in sacrifice. After the film, I read Aster’s script and there is so much left out of the actual movie that a particular dialogue tied it all together quite nicely for me. Which made me wonder why he removed it or if it was even filmed? Perhaps it was too on the nose? Either way, hopefully it will be in the director’s cut which I assume will be four hours of hell. But essentially, and obviously sacrifice is the biggest theme aside from loss and grief and also the realization Dani’s dating an asshole.

In the immensely dreadful, disturbing, first act, Dani (Florence Pugh) undergoes a tremendous loss and that’s a sufferable horror within itself. Several months later her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) and his anthropology college bros are leaving to Sweden for a month to a small village known as Harga where the week long festivities begin. Dani also tags along with them, although everyone is reluctant of her being there. She tries to put on a brave face but internally she’s emotionally breaking down which is often shown in her a series of panic attacks. Once they arrive to Haga things obviously go array slowly and then catapults into pure insanity. And through that insanity you’re watching the breakdown of Dani and Christian’s relationship slowly and painfully coming to an end. Dani is vulnerable and Christian’s only concern are for his own needs. Anyone who’s been in this type of relationship will see this. I almost feel like this is a fable of sorts, like the tortoise and the hare? What happens to the vulnerable and what happens to the selfish ones? I won’t spoil it. But look at the mural below!! Now take deep exaggerated breaths.

Now, the precursor to the impetuous breakdown is heartbreaking and distressing, especially from Dani’s eyes and its captured in a sequence that’ll I’ll say is my favorite part of the whole film. It’s the moment Dani comes back from blessing the crops as the community’s new May Queen. She curiously wants to know what going on in one of the barns. Naturally, one of the girls warns her not to, but again human nature and curiosity can’t always be resisted. Dani witnesses another horrific image that cuts her to the core AGAIN and suffers. And you feel for this girl. Breakdown after breakdown, and you know this particular one is the final nail in the coffin. But what’s beautiful about this sequence is how the group of women collectively surround her with their empathy. Like genuine empathy. Her pain is their pain. And as they embrace in this little circle of a cathartic cry session of wailing women, it becomes a domino effect of recycling emotion. It’s terrifyingly haunting to watch on screen and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a filmmaker capture that before well without the regards to Toni Collete’s heavy breakdown in HEREDITARY. I’m still in awe one moment, terrified another, and then exhausted by the onslaught of heavy emotional that hits you like an avalanche. That’s a ton of energy. I’m sure all the guys in the theater were gripping their armchair because its never easy seeing anyone displaying that level of pain especially if it’s someone you deeply love.

I was at odds after watching MIDSOMMAR and my first reaction (which is never my final reaction) was it’s a glorified version of the original WICKER MAN but with a sharp focus from a female’s perspective. Ultimately, its a portrayal of a twisted fairy tale laced in suffering, rebirth, betrayal and acceptance and what’s so parallel is the timeline of the festival’s customs and traditions coincide with what the characters represent in a lifecycle of their own journey. Obviously the ending of a relationship is never easy albeit, Ari Aster makes this grand gesture dazzled in allegory for something tumultuous that should be recognizable by every human being with a soul. It’s a mind-boggling feat. Impressive, glorious, disturbing, and tantalizes the brain! The ending of a relationship is like a death. You ache, you grieve and eventually you accept and sometimes do batshit, crazy things. This is all illustrated in the very first shot of the film. Remember that elaborate mural? The entire story is in that mural which seems like a series of Tarot cards. It feels creepy because it’s meant to. Elaborate with color that doesn’t seem harmful but playful and that’s the real kicker to this whole film as its infused with flowers, dancing, singing, a celebration that mirrors many things in life. Yet beneath the surface there is a true omen to sacrifice. Something people do every day and even though this is a graphically disturbing film it demonstrates humanity’s demeanor. Are we all monsters of our own devices? Not necessarily. But all the newcomers who came to Harga had their own agendas whether it being a thesis or looking to get laid and from that point, there was very much a disconnect between them and in being within their environment. This draws the ferocious line of being selfish or accepting sacrifice which is a fundamental aspect of being in a relationship with someone.

MIDSOMMAR by any means isn’t an easy film to stomach, emotionally and perhaps physically for the average viewer but if you’re strong and willing, go for it! I can’t say enough conflicting good things about this flick. Its discombobulating, clever, deeply and thrillingly like an aphordisac for the confused soul to contempt life’s greatest misadventures. If you can handle blatant imagery of the trauma that’s bestowed upon the human body, which in essence represents the symbolic means of ritualistic sacrifice then by all means please watch this film, and if not well you can read the script which is even grittier than what was shown in theaters. The performance of Florence Pugh, who plays Dani comes off natural and doesn’t even feel like she’s acting. Actually all of the performances were incredible, nothing didn’t feel overplayed but almost as if you felt like you knew these characters to some degree. Sound design, cinematography, creepy musical moments, special effects make up, even how movement is conveyed was intrinsically hypnotic. An incredible haunting tale that will never be forgotten but probably herald as one of the top horror films for decades to come. It even comes with a “moral to the story”. So if you’re dating an arrogant, selfish asshole, well do yourself a favor and dump the person, because yourself worth as a human being deserves better.

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Eccentric, Sinister, Hell Fire is HEREDITARY

In the family of horror genre, HEREDITARY is like that long, lost cousin you never knew you had and then one day while eating a chocolate bar with an impassive, deadpan stare watching grandma seemingly sleep peacefully in her casket, you realize something is amiss. Sorrow, pain, tears, perhaps, an uncontrollable, emotional outburst? Why are you not sad? And yet somehow, grief is very much the catalyst that drives the unraveling of this fragile family to great dismay. Such as it is, miniature houses, clucking noises, and Toni Collete will never be the same to me EVER again. It also didn’t help, I had to pee 30 minutes, into this two hour diabolical, fire burning, possessive triumph of a thrill ride. Its so good!

The main synopsis of this film begins with the aftermath of a grandmother’s passing, as we learn she was a secretive, difficult woman, which leads the grieving family to wrestle out their emotions in unconventional ways. But what’s mysterious is in the mother’s eulogy, ” I see a lot faces I don’t recognize here today”. Why would there would be strangers at her mother’s funeral? Keep that question in mind. Toni Collete plays the mother Annie, who’s a type of multimedia artist working on miniature houses while being a wife to Steve (Gabriel Byrne), and a mother to two kids, Charlie (Milly Shapiro) and Peter (Alex Wolff). As the story unfolds through some painful, life altering events, we discover this family has inherited some creepy, deep, dark secrets that torments its audience in cringe worthy ways. The filmmaker, Ari Aster leaves us deliberate clues that’s very tantalizing but also seemingly punishes his audience for having preconceived notions on how his horror movie should be conceived. It’s like a-ha gotcha! And the scope of that is beyond brilliant.

Horror is more than serial killers, torture porn, ghosts, witchcraft, supernatural forces that go bump in the night, and basically every indecent crevice that unmasks our inhumanity. Horror can also be very psychological and this film banks on that notion because it adheres to the basic structure of fear. Loss, tragedy death. We’ve all experienced it and we’ve all in someway fear each or all of these things. You see this, often times streamlined in other films, and the first one that comes to mind is Lars von Trier’s ANTICHRIST. And for those of you who have seen it, just contemplate it a moment.

The first half of this film is purely eccentric and psychological because that’s part of the setup for the second half, which unfolds into a world that’s bat shit out of control. HEREDITARY was built on a confident foundation, borrowing from the great horror makers of the 70s. Taking in some moody elements that I can see why some critics hail it as this generation’s THE EXORCIST. Even classics like ROSEMARY’S BABY, that really built some tension on slow moments, wide shots and slow pans are somehow gratifyingly more effective than close ups and fast camera movement. The more distance you have from the story and its characters the more genuinely terrifying it feels. There are also some questionable wide angle shots that amplifies the disconnection of the family as we learn throughout the story, not everyone trusts each other. This tension drives their relationships into some explosive dialogue especially in the dinner table scene which Collete nails on the head tenfold. In fact, everyone’s performance made an impressionable impact across the spectrum from physicality to emotional extremity. It’s so good.

Aside from the performances, the ambience aides this film into something relentlessly hypnotic. It sets everything in motion and surprisingly there are moments of relief provided by humor. I’m referring to the moments where Annie meets and hangs out with Joan (Ann Dowd). Joan is also a woman coming to terms with the loss of her son and grandson, who also takes it upon herself to console Annie into some supernatural journey which she wholeheartedly believes may relieve some of Annie’s emotional pain. And blowing past the skeptical attributes one associates with communicating with the dead, Aster somehow hooks his audience into the spookiness. I admit it, I too rolled my eyes. Which leads me to my next thought….

A24 employs a different breed of storytelling, as it’s primary goal is to watch movies from a “distinctive point of view”. If you’ve seen THE WITCH and were totally dissatisfied, it’s because that horror film’s focus was on atmosphere. It practically bathes in it. It’s a period piece horror flick, dealing with witchcraft and a again about a family losing control. Atmosphere invokes a certain degree of fear, because it’s a world without control. There’s sort of a pattern here. If we control what we fear, then we’re home free. If we don’t control what we perceive as fear, it opens the flood gates to unpredictability. Unpredictability leads to that powerless feeling and its essentially what makes Annie’s character interesting in how she perceives and attempts to control life and possibly everyone in her family by creating these miniature houses. Every freaking detail is a layer of structure. She goes as far as to create a certain scene that occurs in the movie ( I won’t give it away, but you see it in the trailer) which in her mind is a “neutral” perspective of the situation which totally pisses off her husband because its disturbing. Because who in their right mind would do such a thing? Someone still in the grieving process, that’s who! Aster even clues us in with one of the opening shots, which has that wickedly cool diorama box feel effect. Every detail with the positioning of the framing, the actors, paralleling to the miniature house that Annie constructs. I think that was one of my favorite shots in the whole film because he’s mirroring this perceived notion of control, and then he slow pushes the camera to reveal the actual house. I love it!

Now, the last 20 minutes of this film, is eccentrically sinister especially when trying to tie it all together, something still felt off as if it were designed to purposely discombobulate you. Well done, I’m discombubulated. There was a ton of information flying around, that my brain is still processing on what the hell just happened. And this could be an intentional ambiguous ploy, to be left in the dark and maybe that’s the point. If I had all the answers I wouldn’t be entirely satisfied and leaving enough room for the audience to venture its own interpretive conclusion is exciting to have such an option. So, I’m conflicted. I don’t want to be force fed something that’s neatly wrapped and polished, I want grit, smudgy, chaos with a flair of existential conundrum BUT I also want to know about the creepy cult in the tree house! I’ll stop right there and wrap this up.

Cinemascore gave HEREDITARY a D+ perhaps because it loosely presents itself to the conventions of an art film. Remember the BLAIR WITCH PROJECT? The proof was in the marketing, splitting the audience’s reaction between garbage and praise but really it’s all subjective. So before you go into this screening just be sure to check your expectations at the door, go in with an open mind, because this isn’t that kind of manufactured generic horror flick that major Hollywood studios love to produce. This is a rebel with a cause as it defiantly steps into an arena, holding true to its premise. Brace yourself for weathering the stormy journey of soul crushing agony because you have to pay attention to the clues even if it terrorizes your mind. Hang in there, it’s half of the fun. It will make you oh and ah while you nervously shake your leg obsessively, probably pissing off the person sitting in front of you which is always fun to observe.

And while viewing this decadent slice of entertainment, I was lucky enough to sit with an audience at 10pm where you can feel the energy of anticipation. People nervously laughed, people gasped, body’s tensed up, the inevitable sighs of dread, and miraculously as the credits rolled most people applauded. It wasn’t so bad, it was like the weight of the world had been lifted and people could breathe in peacefully again. People survived this two- hour journey of wide eye’d panic and unintended asphyxiation. Even hearing various banter as people filed out of the theater confirmed this horror flick did itself justice. I’ll never forget this one guy saying, “I’m going to watch some cartoons before I go to bed tonight.” And as I was washing my hands in the women’s restroom, you could hear people humming the song from the end credits. What does that tell you? The essence of this film nestled itself well into the confines of peoples’ psyches because its blatant imagery will haunt you and stay with you like you’ve just reluctantly won a door prize you don’t necessarily want to keep. Everyone goes home a winner, with the possibility of having a nightmare where Toni Collete crawls across your ceiling or attempts to douse you in paint thinner while holding a match. Even the simplest sound device of *cluck* is permanently associated to this film’s legacy for years to come. Quite an astonishing feat. Bravo. Bravo.