As Halloween approaches, I take a look at one of the horror genre’s most promising talents.
Halloween is here, so I better talk about some horror movies, right? The truth is, I love this genre, yet find it so frustrating. At its best, no other genre comes close to matching the way it involves its audience and the passion which emanates from the audience as a result. Yet, the truly great horror flicks which create this experience seem to be becoming increasingly few and far between – with a great deal of crap having to be waded through in order to unearth these gems. So let’s talk about someone who’s currently making serious waves within the horror genre, and for all the right reasons.
2019 saw the release of ‘Midsommar’, Ari Aster’s second feature length film. It depicts a festival in rural Sweden; one which was strongly reminiscent of 1973’s ‘The Wicker Man’. What begins as a charming – albeit bizarre – retreat for a handful of American tourists, quickly transitions into a nightmare of isolation and violence at the hands of the pagan cult who inhabit this rural town. Lets just say, if ‘The Wicker Man’ wasn’t proof enough, ‘Midsommar’ helps to well and truly show us why secluded parts of the world engaging in pagan practises should be avoided at all costs.
What Aster does best here is use absolutely everything at his disposal to create tension. Fundamentally, he understands that horror doesn’t come from the jump scares which we see so often nowadays, but rather a slow-burn of tension, as the situation put to the audience gradually becomes murkier and full to the brim with apprehension. This sense of foreboding is mainly derived from the isolation which the tourists experience. Much of the Swedish dialogue was deliberately not subtitled in order to help create this feeling of detachment for both the main characters and the audience.
This movie looks and sounds fantastic as well. The cinematography is beautiful (with the majority being shot in Hungary as opposed to Sweden), taking full advantage of mountains and rolling hills. This cinematography, combined with weird pagan rituals and ancient Swedish areas such as Attestupa (probably worth looking this up as it’s pretty shocking) create authenticity, helping to add to the feeling of isolation.
Is ‘Midsommar’ particularly scary? Not really, no. At least not in the sense that it doesn’t make you jump out of your skin every five minutes. But it isn’t trying to do that either. What this film does achieve is a sense of deep discomfort – something which makes for a far more unpleasant, yet perversely enjoyable viewing experience. Most importantly, it shows that horror doesn’t always have to take place in dimly lit, silent hallways!
‘Midsommar’ was Aster’s follow-up to 2018’s ‘Hereditary’ which concerns a family haunted by a demon after the passing of their grandmother. I feel like I’m repeating myself a bit here but again, Aster shows his ability to create and continually expand tension. ‘Hereditary’ contains so many moments where a different director would have thrown in a lazy jumpscare. Aster leaves these moments untouched for as long as possible, like blowing up a balloon until it’s fit to burst.
Best of all, and again, unlike many other directors in this genre, Aster recognises that not all moviegoers are morons who need every minor plot detail spoon fed to them. He employs the ‘show don’t tell’ rule – avoiding unnecessary and jarring exposition, making the whole experience far more compelling. Because, allowing the audience to actually work things out for themselves is always better than just telling them. Oh, and Toni Collette is absolutely brilliant in the lead role, as is Florence Pugh in ‘Midsommar’. Expect big things from her in the future, as she embarks on her acting journey.
Neither film is perfect by any means. If anything, ‘Midsommar’s’ payoff is slightly disappointing. I’m a huge advocate of slow pacing, but only if the conclusion to that pacing makes the overall viewing experience worth it. While to my mind, ‘Hereditary’ is quite clearly the superior movie, the general framework for it is fairly unoriginal – family suffers a bereavement and is subsequently haunted by a supernatural being. Regardless, both films were two very promising entries into the horror canon and I’ll be eagerly awaiting Ari Aster’s next project.
Featured Image Copyright A24