By: India Slodki
Ari Aster is only two movies into his career, yet he has already made a name for himself. Commercially, Aster’s films may be in the horror realm, but look past the murder and you’ll find intelligent commentary about family dichotomy.
His first film, Hereditary, is about a family that has fallen on hard times. Desperate, the matriarch of the family tries to find solace in anything she can. Whether it means distancing herself from her son or practicing seances in an attempt to reach her dead daughter, the woman is desperate to find peace among the turmoil. The film ends with a bang, pieces finally clicking together.
Aster’s next and most recent project, Midsommar, has many of the same elements utilized in Hereditary. The film begins and ends with a family, one lost and one gained. A troubled young woman loses her bipolar sister and parents on the same night. Her boyfriend, who is reluctantly still in their four-year-long relationship invites her to come to Sweden with him and his college buddies. Terror befalls the troupe, and they find themselves in hot water.
Both films craft tension in the most spectacular way, the uncertainty that something bad will happen that helps ties one’s stomach into knots. With each minute, that uncertainty dwindles and fades, until you are three hours in and realize that your suspicions were correct all along.
The thing about both Hereditary and Midsommer is the fact that they are actually scary, as opposed to horror films filled with predictable jump scares. Ari Aster’s films sit in your stomach. They eat at your conscious. They remain with you for days.
They are scary, not because they are filled with bloody deaths—in fact, most deaths in both films happen off screen—but because they explore dynamics about human relationships. People are often too scared to explore themselves, let alone to watch such tension in film.
Aster disregards the taboo among exploring such ideas, and goes for it in dazzling color—literally. Midsommar is shot in Hungary, on vivid green grass and a swallowing blue sky. It’s hard to imagine such a beautiful place as the backdrop for bloodshed. Hereditary takes place in Utah, mountain landscapes set the scene for a horrific narrative.
Because of this, both films have a very unassuming facade. The lingering camera shots and elusive details are what instills terror in the audience. Cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski and Aster were classmates at the American Film Institute. Their companionship has followed them into the filmmaking business, as Pogorzelski brings Aster’s vision to reality in both Hereditary and Midsommar.
Porgorzelski’s work provides a dreamlike quality to Aster’s nightmarish stories. Each transition is smooth, each shot calculated. Pogorzelski paints a reality in which Aster’s stories come to life, sedating the audience with captivating shots and a steady camera. You never know what will happen next, and only a keen eye can decipher such articulate foreshadowing.
Aster doesn’t foresee more horror flicks in his near future. Recently, he talked to The Verge magazine and mentioned that while he loves the genre, he is done with cults and demons. However, he does expect to continue exploring ideas that previous directors have trouble with. Sitting on several screenplays, you can expect his next films to be as dark and honest as his current projects.