Ari Aster

Midsommar

First Hit: Early on, I was hopeful and interested, but as the story moved along it failed to deliver intrigue and died an unhappy but amusing unintended death.

While watching the film, the approach of the story reminded me of “Get Out” in that people are brought to a place unsuspecting of the weird darkness that is ready to befall them. But more like "Us,” Jordan Peele’s follow-up film, this story fails by being too overt and complicated in its presentation.

At the beginning of the film, I thought the scenes were exciting and created a hopeful promise of a good story. Many of these scenes, were well depicted, including Dani (Florence Pugh) panicking because her bi-polar sister wasn’t responding to Dani’s emails and that her parents not answering their phone. She did a great job of depicting insecurity and panic.

Looking for support, she calls her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor), but gets little relief from her fears, because of the tone tenor of his voice while attempting to support her tells a different story. We understand that he’s disengaged and tired of her insecurities.

When Dani learns her sister has killed herself and her parents, Christian does what he can to support her, but we all know, he’s doing it out of guilt and now barely cares about any future with Dani.

Christian likes hanging out with his friends, Josh (William Jackson Harper), Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), and Mark (Will Poulter) who are encouraging him to find another girlfriend because Dani’s too clingy.

These set-up scenes are excellent and made me wonder where this story was headed.

During a group conversation with his buddies, Christian reluctantly tells his friends that he’s invited Dani on their group trip to Sweden to meet Pelle’s family and experience the Midsommar celebration.

The reluctance and inability of Christian to communicate with Dani, and with his friends about Dani, is part of the slow burn that develops in Dani that is key to actions later in the film.

Heading into Pelle’s communal family compound, the audience notices the welcoming nature of this group, but also there’s a hint of darkness in the interactions between the outsiders and the communal group.

Then the story really starts to dive into weirdness. Along with another outside couple, Connie and Simon (Ellora Torchia and Archie Madekwe respectively), we get a sense that these outsiders were brought here for another reason (hence the reference to “Get Out”).

There are overtly graphic deaths that are meant to be honorable in their execution as this commune believes that at age 72 you’ve served and it’s time to leave. When I say overtly graphic, I mean this. They are not easy to watch and not for the faint of heart.

But this is just part of the weirdness of this story, and by the time it is clear what is going on, the story was both comical and poorly conceived.

Pugh was strong. Her ability to be needy, vulnerable, and edgy was very good. Reynor was excellent at being a guilt-ridden boyfriend. Harper was one of the more clearly defined characters and brought a saneness to this story. Poulter is always good at being the goofy, slightly outrageous, obnoxious character. In this film, he carries on this role. Blomgren was outstanding as the commune member who gently supports Dani through her transition. Madekwe was sufficiently outraged bordering on too much at the demonstration of the deaths of two older people. Torchia was good in her minor role as Simon’s finance. Ari Aster wrote the screenplay and directed this film. The story felt overly complicated and seemed to get confused with itself. For instance, there is this scene when Pelle says this event only happens every ninety years, but what part is annual and what part is every ninety years? When do the other old people pass, annually? What parts are every ninety years, and what parts are annual? I didn’t understand the meaning of talking about this ninety-year sacred event. There were moments in which the direction was clearly impactful and engaging, while other sections pushed the story more than required to make the point or that the parts didn’t quite make sense.

Overall: This film was too long and uneven its storytelling.

Hereditary

First Hit: A rather complex or complicated horror film that worked reasonably well.

This is a dark film and attempts, in its own way, to pose question about evil being hereditary. The story revolves around the horrible death of Charlie (Milly Shapiro). She is killed in an accident (or is it) when her brother Peter (Alex Wolff) is driving her to the hospital.

Although this scene is early in the film, the strangeness of the family and their dynamics are shown because Annie (Toni Collette), the mother, makes models of the house and other things in her work studio. Charlie sleeps outside in a tree house that's very cold. The main house itself is way out in the country and is given the feeling of being a bit dark. Peter is shown to be somewhat ambivalent about life, school, and spends a lot of time high on pot.

We learn later that this Annie’s accurate models are her art and livelihood. Her husband, Steve (Gabriel Byrne) is rather stoic about the family’s oddness and acts as the solid foundation of the family.

After Charlie’s death Peter and Annie have fights blaming each other for Charlie’s death while Steve tries to referee these fights.

Annie meets Joan (Ann Dowd) who speaks with her about losing a child and quickly becomes Annie’s confidant. But things become more bizarre and sinister when Joan teaches Annie about how to conjure up the spirit of her deceased Charlie.

From here the film takes some bizarre turns and outside of the strong performances, the story is not believable or, in the end, horrifying.

Collette is amazingly and bizarrely strong in this role. She’s required to portray a wide range of feelings and emotions and she does this very well. Wolff is the other prime role and his lack of outward rage was either script driven, or he didn’t have the ability to share this. His actions after the accident didn’t seem to fit the event and that was disconcerting to me. Byrne was OK as the stoic father who rarely ventured out of this role’s comfort zone. Shapiro was good in her short-lived part. Dowd was excellent as the friendly helpful person who also had a dark side. Ari Aster wrote and directed this film. I trust he got what he wanted but for me, the horror in the film was the shocking accident that killed Charlie, the rest was just oddly bizarre.

Overall: This film was unique in its storytelling that had strong performances.