Tag Archives: Ari Aster

REPORT: MIDSOMMAR DIRECTOR’S CUT (2019)

First, the bottom line: if you saw Midsommar (review) in its original summer run, there’s no pressing need to revisit it so soon. In all likelihood you’ll barely even notice the new director’s cut material. If you missed it the first time around and a theater near you is showing it, however, this is a nice opportunity to catch the summer’s sunniest folk horror on the big screen. (Apparently, the only other way to see the extended cut will be via Apple TV beginning on September 24, where it will screen exclusively—for the time being, at least.)

Midsommar (2019) Promotional imageAs far as what’s new: twenty five minutes of restored material is not a lot, but it pushes the overall runtime to a taxing 2 hours 50 minutes. The additions change nothing significant, and maybe in one case blunt the film’s impact. Some of the early scenes, such as the trip from Stockholm to the Hårga commune, are extended for character development purposes. Christian, Josh and Mark all come off worse.  There are also a few additional scenes of pagan rites.

The most noteworthy departure occurs when the commune stages another pageant, but this time set during the few hours of midsummer darkness. The ritual itself is effective, playing with our expectations, but will only surprise those who didn’t see the theatrical cut. It’s followed by an explosive argument between Christian and Dani, which I think was too on-the-nose, and likely a minor mistake. The movie works better when we glimpse the rift between them as just a hairline for as long as possible, making the final crack more devastating. I appreciate the appearance of a nighttime scene, which dramatically breaks the film’s sunshine motif, almost exactly at the film’s midpoint; but the payoff doesn’t justify such a dramatic formal departure.

Overall, I think the extended version proves that the cuts the studio requested of writer/director were wisely chosen. Given the choice, I’d save twenty-five minutes and watch the shorter theatrical cut.

The bigger question, I think, is why did A24 bother to re-release Midsommar to theaters at all? They aren’t going to squeeze enough juice out of this specialty berry to pass Avengers: Endgame in the all-time receipts race. I think it signals one of two things: either Aster’s two hits for the studio have given him enough pull to dictate programming strategy (maybe he made the extended theatrical release a condition for accepting the requested cuts); or, A24 thinks that they have a long-shot awards season contender on their hands (Florence Pugh), and want to keep Midsommar fresh in the minds of critics. I’m going with the second explanation.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Most of the additional footage serves to reiterate or unpick points that landed better as hints and asides.”–Ryan Gibley, The Guardian

“…the newly released Extended Cut expounds on the misery felt by both members of the couple and allows a deeper glimpse into the alien culture they are drawn into.”–Brad Gullickson, Film School Rejects

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: MIDSOMMAR (2019)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, Vilhelm Blomgren

PLOT: American grad students travel to a remote Swedish village above the Arctic Circle during the midnight sun to witness an ancient festival.

Still from Midsommar (2019)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: With just two features under his belt, Ari Aster impresses with his ability to encase deep and painful psychological dramas inside true-to-form horror stories. The emphasis on bizarre rituals and the wavery psychedelic interludes make Midsommar a weirder candidate for our endorsement than 2018’s (excellent) Hereditary.

COMMENTS: Although it features a memorably schizo performance by a tormented Florence Pugh, flowery pagan pageantry, brilliant cinematography, a frightening folk horror score, and daytime nightmares that bleed into reality, the one thing Ari Aster’s Midsommar lacks is surprise. It’s obvious to anyone who’s seen The Wicker Man (or any horror movie, really) that things won’t go well for the four American master’s thesis students visiting the apparently quaint and welcoming remote hamlet where the villagers still remember the Old Ways. Aster also retreads a lot of the same ground that made his debut Hereditary so intoxicating: grief-based psychological drama, a strong female lead, leisurely pace, ian  pans, and obsessive invention of occult rituals. The one surprise is that Midsommar works admirably on its own terms despite reminding us of so many other movies (including Aster’s last one).

A pair of foci orbit around each other throughout the movie. The first is the failing relationship between the two leads. Christian, an unfocused grad student with no idea what he’s going to write his masters’ thesis on, feels trapped by the emotionally needy Dani. She’s already neurotic, popping lorazepams to dampen her frequent panic attacks, before the tragedy she fears actually strikes, making it unseemly for Christian to abandon her. Swedish student Pelle invites Christian, along with two buddies, to visit his remote northern homeland, an isolated pseudo-utopian commune where the people live in harmony with nature, for a pagan midsummer festival that only takes place once every 90 years; a trepidatious Dani tags along, even though the affable Swede seems to be the only one who actually welcomes her presence. When they arrive, the film’s other focus comes to bear (so to speak), as Aster builds a familiar-yet-novel nature worshiping cult out of details like icky surreptitious love potions, runic holy texts dictated by deformed inbreds, and an elaborate (and rigged?) drugged dance around the maypole. The two plots collide in a finale that should leave you with a queasy, ambiguous feeling, since it works quite differently on the metaphorical and the literal levels.

As the only horror movie I can think of filmed almost entirely in bright daylight, Midsommar gives a new symbolic meaning to “day for night” shooting. With its white-haired elders in white robes standing on white cliffs above rune-encrusted white standing stones, the film is lit in blinding, blanched whiteness, decorated with red and yellow wildflowers and lush green fields. The special effects for the psychedelic scenes are legitimately shroomy, with the dilated camera showing off lots of breathing objects, including a flower disc that pulses independently in Dani’s headdress. It’s lovely to behold.

The audience, a mix of Hereditary fans and patrons shut from sold-out screenings Toy Story or Spider-Man, gasped collectively at the midpoint when the villagers’ rites suddenly turned from the picturesque to the grisly. The third act brought genuine, if uncomfortable, laughter with one of the most awkward sex scenes ever filmed. People muttered as the credits rolled. These are sounds you like to hear in the theater.

We’re living in a golden age of adult psychological horror at the moment, so enjoy it while it lasts. Personally, I could do with a new Jordan Peele release every winter and a new Ari Aster release every summer for the foreseeable future. Just throw in more frequent pictures while you’re at it, please.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…Midsommar‘s core themes still land when they come back into focus in the third act; it’s the indulgent weirdness in the build-up that dilutes the movie’s overarching impact… it’s hard to imagine that this one won’t end up going down as the most WTF wide release of 2019.”–Sandy Schaefer, Screen Rant (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by J.R. Kinnard, who gushed, “The third act is a masterpiece of weirdness.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

LIST CANDIDATE: HEREDITARY (2018)

Must See

DIRECTED BY: Ari Aster

FEATURING: , Alex Wolff , Milly Shapiro,

PLOT: Disturbing events unfold after the death of a family matriarch, culminating in a bizarrely violent pagan ritual infused with supernatural occurrences.

Still from Hereditary (2018)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Hereditary equals or surpasses already Certified Weird films The Wicker Man, Repulsion, and Don’t Look Now with creepy cult imagery, tightly wound drama, and an effective and disturbing finale. The heavily-researched occult details makes the material surrounding guilt and loss linger. The exceptional effectiveness of Hereditary‘s unique brand of personal tragedy transformed into cult devilry means it should be considered for the list.

COMMENTS: Like a coffin descending into a fresh grave, Hereditary sinks into a subconscious nightmare that feels extremely real. The supernatural mystery at the core of the story (derived from a host of influences) is amplified by raw emotions surrounding bereavement and guilt. Hereditary doesn’t hold back when the catharsis comes. While Colin Stetson’s score highlights the creepy occult details to an oppressive effect, the characters mechanize into functional roles of which they are unaware. Represented in miniature models built by lead character Annie (Toni Collette), they ultimately fall prey to a bizarre set of spiritual encounters which, given the slow drip of small clues along the way, makes for an affecting, unforgettable experience.

Cluck

The anxious and paranoid plot structure is highlighted by a web of sensory mechanics, like clicks and shimmers. It’s not surprising that theatergoers already engage in “clucking” during viewings, embracing the sensory details of the plot in real time. Much like ‘s Repulsion, which is also laden with sensory triggers and sharp invasions, Hereditary is often dour and unpleasant; but this allows more fun to be had with its exciting plot development focusing on the invocation of an ancient pagan lord. Hereditary doesn’t merely bludgeon the audience with pop-psychology myths; it amplifies its plot revelations with painstakingly researched detail and pitch-perfect acting. The haunting images, abrupt sounds, and Toni Collette’s riveting acting combine with the sensory flourishes to create a seamless whole with an unusually oppressive mood.

Feels/Mechanics

The audience shares Annie’s emotions. Her retreat and avoidance of pain explodes into violent death and disorientation, kick-started in an early scenes when Annie asks her husband, “Should I be sadder?” after her mother’s funeral. Her focus on crafting miniature replicas grounds and distracts her, but perhaps only furthers her destructive tendencies.

The mechanics of the wider plot make the atmosphere even more compelling. Words in a bizarre language—“Satony,” “Zazam,” “Liftoach Pandemonium”—scribbled onto a bedroom wall neatly divide the narrative. Meant as invocations, the words (Aster did some Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: HEREDITARY (2018)