A group of grad students visits an isolated Swedish community for a ritual that takes place once every 90 years.
Directed by Ari Aster
Starring Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, and Vilhelm Blomgren
Review by Jon Kissel
Grief as a motivating theme in horror movies has been a dominant trend, especially amongst the arthouse horror genre of which Midsommar is a part. Directed by Ari Aster, Midsommar is the follow-up to Hereditary, his debut film that opens with a funeral and features a few more before the end credits. Before Aster broke out, he was preceded by The Babadook, Goodnight Mommy, and The Witch, all of which background some unspeakable loss in their characters’ lives and then either compound that trauma or personify it in some terrifying visage. It’s not like this is a new development, as you can’t tell a ghost story without a dead body, but the last several years have accentuated emotional rawness and heightened feelings of dread over horror’s usual jump scares, both tactics that make what’s viewed as a B-genre more meaningful. There’s plenty of meaning to be found on the walls and in the background of Midsommar, a film that combines its thinking on grief with a cult, something that always sparks my interest. Aster doesn’t quite top himself after the intensity of Hereditary, but he’s two-for-two thus far, and just as able to create tension in broad daylight as he was in Hereditary’s pitch black.
Nicolas Winding Refn works at two opposite poles, with raw crime stories at one end and deliberately frosty exercises in audience estrangement at the other. Whether he’s making Drive or Valhalla Rising, there’s always going to be a mostly silent protagonist surrounded by people Refn largely doesn’t like and a lot of red, both in the lighting or as an aftereffect from some grotesque act of violence. For the Danish director’s 10th film, The Neon Demon is a balanced medium between what makes him compelling and frustrating. It tells a coherent story with recognizable people in it, but it also contains surrealist touches that are included because why the hell not. A film set in fashion and modeling is going to have the requisite amount of style and misanthropy, because making fun of the fashion world is low hanging fruit. That I can describe a film with corpse fondling and cannibalism as middle-of-the-road suggests what kind of filmmaker Refn is.
Darren Aronofsky is a director who lives in the extremity of human experience, for good and ill. Something like Requiem for a Dream tracks the depths that people are willing to descend to for their narrow definition of happiness, while his self-described Perfection duo, The Wrestler and Black Swan, are both about performers dedicated to feats of physical excellence despite the damage this does to their psyches and bodies. He’s also an obvious devotee of body horror master David Cronenberg, a guy who made his bones by taking the psychological ailments of his characters and manifesting them in decaying flesh and pulsing tumors. Black Swan is Cronenbergian body horror shot through with Aronofsky’s bravura directorial flourishes, a film about transformation and transcendence that includes breathtaking moment after breathtaking moment. It’s also campy and melodramatic and soapy, and maybe sexist depending how one views it. Nine years after its release, Black Swan is still a thrilling and powerful watch that holds up cinematically even as I wonder if it holds up thematically.
Raw is one of those films that engenders visceral reactions in its viewers. Its showings have apparently resulted in the paramedics being called in after audience members have fainted. Even the trailer dares the viewer to look away. As the latest entry into the company of the French Extremity genre, along with gorefests like Martyrs and Gaspar Noe's nightmare landscapes, Raw deserves its grotesque reputation, but it is not solely going for cheap thrills. Julia Ducournau's intense but heady film is a feast for the eyes, as oddly beautiful and entrancing as a story about a sheltered veterinary student's cannibalistic awakening could possibly be. Ducournau throws down a challenge to stomach her work and an invitation to experience it. Both are worth accepting.
Kevin Smith’s an acquired taste and for all intents and purposes, seems to be a charming and introspective guy. Coming onto the cinematic scene at the same time as other hyper-loquacious indie directors like Richard Linklater and Quentin Tarantino, he spent his first ten years churning out interconnected comedies that were by turns filthy and eloquent. He also might be a prime example of the truism that a person spends their whole life creating their first thing, and then struggles to replicate it thereafter. Smith’s debut, Clerks, is great, and everything else has lived in its micro-budget shadow. This is especially true with Tusk. The last decade of Smith’s career has found him trying to break away from raunch and into genre with cop buddy comedies and cult shootouts, and Tusk is his largely unsuccessful body horror attempt.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.
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