With this and 2018’s Hereditary as his debut, Aster has announced himself as one of the preeminent auteurs in cinema, genre artist or otherwise
Starts with a mural, then a beautiful montage (stunning landscape photography) of Winter and the foundationary long America-set prelude is important to the character building and formal construct—all darkly lit the suicidal sister says “everything’s black” in the email—almost like a Fincher film (as juxtaposition to the brightly lit day-time washed out whites of Sweden’s summer)—it also is a comment on Dani’s (a spectacular Florence Pugh) psyche
Impressive world-building by Aster– Harga– the “hottest and brightest summer on record”. The set piece architecture in the Swedish field built from scratch—the house looks a bit like 2018’s Mandy’s house (with an impressive Sistine chapel moment)—the barn set piece is so exquisitely designed, there’s a conversation between Jack Reynor’s character and one of the elder women approving a match with incredible wallpapers, the rocks for the suicide sacrifice for the elders is excellent production design and location choice as well—washed out (Kieslowski’s White-like) rocks and set pieces
The story is very much Dani’s personal journey through this pain—and a relationship film or break-up film as Aster self describes. Pelle (the Swedish student that lures them there) is the only one that connects with Dani. Tells her she deserves a family and is dead right about boyfriend not being there. The lighting change serves her journey and the smile at the end with the music at the credendo works.
Aster’s camerawork is cinematic transcendence- many tracking shots (the stunner in on the sister’s suicide and quickly after that we get a forward dolly to Christian comforting Dani on the couch and Aster’s camera glides above them to the empty window– winter landscape– and then we get the opening titles)
– he’s not gliding along with a romantic tracking shot though like Scorsese or Malick—it’s very bracketed and calculated tracking shots– moving along the set frame closer to Wes Anderson say in the beginning of Moonrise Kingdom
The trip in the car to Sweden – Aster flips the camera upside down— incredible style married to the narrative here as we are going from winter to summer, dark to light, US to Sweden, the sedentary life to this hallucinogenic journey – very much like Ryan Coogler flipping the camera when Michael Jordan takes over in Black Panther or how Kubrick warps the roads at the beginning of The Shining
Many overhead shots—reoccurring visual motif— really well done
Symmetry in the frame with the mise-en-scene—again, like Hereditary’s miniatures work- very Wes Anderson
Repetition of ritual- synchronized eating—formal detail
it is relentlessly cinematic- transitions like the edit when Pugh goes from the apartment to opening the door in the airplane bathroom— also the arrangement of bodies in the frame like the 4 guys sitting around the apartment almost like judges eyeing Pugh or the group on drugs with the lone tree
Clearly influenced by The Wicker Man – and that’s a wonderful film and narrative- but frankly Robin Hardy isn’t half the artist Aster is. I see Bergman’s breakup/relationship battles in Scenes From a Marriage or Shame—the village rituals and underlying evil like Haneke’s White Ribbon, and the pitch black comedic world-building from Lanthimos’ Dogtooth. — the film is funny throughout and I had the hardest laugh I had this year in a movie during the ritualistic sex scene
Heavy in the folklore and anthropology
Haxan Cloak score– phenomenal
Stunning final dissolve edit shot on Pugh and the world we’re in, the fulfillment of her breakup fantasy revenge, and the 180 from the opening winter/depression—we’re smiling in the sun
An incredibly achievement of ambitious auteur-driven (this enriches and makes Hereditary even better) filmmaking
I’m blown away by the amount of detail, this is a long film (147 minutes), visually designed to such specificity, another study of the occult, ritualistic, detailed, methodical and anthropological – all just one year after another top 10 of the year quality film
Each American outsider here is killed by their flaws—greedy, selfish—not a redeeming character in the bunch
A portrait of a relationship– comparisons to Marriage Story or some of Bergman’s work is inevitable
Slow turns of the camera, set at angles like Kubrickian tracking shots in The Shining and Paths of Glory
Gauntlet thrown down to other auteurs in 2019—it is like a defibrillator after a really weak first half of cinema in 2019
I think the long duration of the film plays to the disorientation and world-building as Aster takes us deeper and deeper into the rituals of the village…
So in Hereditary Toni Collette’s character is a miniaturist artist— and Aster the director works in miniatures as a formal construct— here—his leads are anthropology students—and Aster as auteur digs in and studies the village in the same way
The special effects drug-use here give to the Margaret Keane-like “Big Eyes” art– trees swaying in the background
The best works in horror history work without the scares—the relationship jousting here reminded me of a little of Social Network’s opening, the terrible way John Cassavetes treats Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby, or the effect of the absent father on Linda Blair in The Exorcist. Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist both have very long prefaces before the horror shows up just like this.
The visual design—florals, murals (throughout and in the overture)—such a dedication to an aesthetic
Aster’s films both feature the occult, based in faces, and child savants/special needs
Hereditary is tighter— like a sweater that unravels—- this is like a vice tightening— both have fantastic formal payoffs at the end
One thing I think you forgot to mention is that one of Pelle’s friends is literally named Ingemar, and whilst not written exactly the same I think we all know who this is a reference to.
I’m a huge fan of history and geography (were my main interests before I became a cinephile) and I saw various references to history and geography here. The temple that is burned at the end is a good start. It is yellow with blue doors; yellow and blue are the colors of the Swedish flag, and there are many other shots in this film that use the colors yellow and blue. The banner that you have listed as a picture above is also yellow with blue letters. Here there’s obvious journey symbolism that I think you already mentioned here and there’s the idea that Sweden is the object of Christian’s destruction, burning him in a blaze of hellfire.
You also have the scene where the oldest man and woman in the village kill themselves by throwing themselves off the white cliff to the horror of the foreigners. This I think is somewhat of a reference (albeit one that would go far under the radar for most) to Caesar’s invasion of Britain in 54 BC, where he began at the White Cliffs of Dover; you’ve got foreigners from a civilized nation in a barbarian land. At the time it was also not certain whether Britain was merely an island or an entire new continent, which mirrors the protagonists’ lack of an understanding of what they would find in the village.
In the same scene, the British tourists are mingled amongst the Swedish villagers, whilst the American protagonists are off to the side. This reflects geography, as Britain is an island within Europe, as the tourists are an island amongst the Swedes, whilst America is a completely separate continent from Europe.
This film is just a total masterpiece. Incredible and left me speechless after watching. I used to laugh at the A24 crowd and I kinda still do but I now feel their “ecstatic rhapsodizing” as I’ve heard it phrased, is very justified. Patiently awaiting what Aster does next because wow.
@Zane – one of the main reasons I like having this site public is either getting recommendations on movies I haven’t seen or should rewatch (perhaps I missed somethign)– and the other reason is for comments like yours here where I certainly can learn something that’ll add to my next viewing. Thanks for sharing. I do know Aster is a massive Bergman admirer.
I was thinking of seeing this movie again, it has been more than a year since i saw it.
I found that there is a director’s cut that lasts about 20 more minutes, have you seen it?
I usually try to avoid director cuts as they usually only make the movie worse.
@Zane haha you’re right, i also make fun of them.
-Which is your favorite director?
@Aldo- I personally haven’t seen the director’s cut- saw the original version twice- my next time I will go for the director’s cut if that’s an available option
I remember you said you don’t usually see director cuts, any director’s cut that you recommend?
Sure Scott is the most famous, his director’s cuts are better.
Apocalypse now is another, apart from those, is there any other that is worth it?
Ridley Scott as an aggregate is the big one followed by Apocalypse Now. Brazil, Once Upon a Time in America, and Heaven’s Gate are all famous director’s cuts as well, though to this day I don’t know which cut of Brazil I’ve seen since I believe both are about the exact same length – maybe a minute apart for either – and I can’t remember the differences.
@Aldo- this feels like a good list https://screenrant.com/movies-best-directors-cut-better-original-version/
At the bottom of that there’s a list of 15 director’s cuts that ruined the original. #15 (which is least worst, as in directors’ cuts from 14-1 are increasingly worse) is Apocalypse Now. I wanted to know your thoughts on whether the original cut or Redux cut is the best version, since I hold very, very little faith in the words of redditors who will probably call Edge of Tomorrow the most underrated film of all time before going on a tangent about how Nightcrawler was the best film of the century. And I like Nightcrawler a lot mind you.
For your information I have only seen the Redux cut (twice and it blew me away the second time), though I have read through a complete breakdown of every single minor little shot added to Redux all the way up to the inclusion of entire new scenes. From this I decided I really liked the additions of small character moments added – the new scenes with Brando are particularly incredible – and just the scenes added all around that add to the film’s episodic nature; the boys go around on their boat and find something new, then leave, then find something else and repeat, and I love how Coppola fleshed it all out even more, but a lot of people hate this because oh well it made an already-slow movie longer. And the other big criticism is with the two scenes that were entirely inserted from nothing into the film: the second Playmates encounter and the plantation sequence. I have divided feelings about both of these scenes individually, but my verdict is to keep the Playmates sequence and cut the plantation. It doesn’t have great effect on my idea of Apocalypse Now as the all-time #1 film however.
On the Playmates encounter, I entirely get the criticism that it’s sort of just porn and misogynistic that objectifies women… and that that’s it. This is not true. I just think there’s a lot more actual meaning in the scene and just dismissing it as porn is ignoring what Coppola is trying to portray here. I’ve heard it described as sort of a “Sirens” scene, like from Greek mythology which I think is great analysis. My own takeaway is the comparison of what young men and women are used for by the government; the guys go out and fight wars and get killed for the higher-ups and the women are sent there to remind them of the reason why they’re fighting and keep them doing so. The exploitation, presented as canvasses for the soldiers to make their art, sort of, mirrors the way the locals are treated as the heli pilots and door gunners just blast them all to hell in the Ride of the Valkyries scene while laughing it off And there are many other ways to look at this scene as well but dismissing it as pornographic is bad analysis worthy of Rex Reed or Pauline Kael.
On the Plantation scene, I again have mixed thoughts. First off is the relative unnecessarity of it, which I suppose you could also level at the scene I discussed right above, but really you could just have a quick burial scene for Mr. Clean (slight tangent here: what a damn incredible find for Coppola grabbing Fishburne in his teens) like what was done with Chief later on. Anyway, I do like the way the scene is shot, visually it’s clearly Coppola-esque and I feel it’s very similar to the ending scene of The Godfather Part II even down to Pacino and Sheen being left alone (though Sheen is left with the French woman) at the very end of the dinner table part. Anyway, the first half where they bury Mr. Clean and then have the discussion at the dinner table is very engaging and tense if it admittedly slows down the movie. I do like the analysis of it showing Sheen breaking down even further under the criticism of his subservience to American imperialism. I like to see it as Sheen looking at his future in this man: unable to leave Vietnam because it’s become the only thing in the world that matters to him, hearing this guy rambling about the country putting the Army in an impossible situation to appease rioters back home who doomed the war.
…And then there’s the scenes of him with the French woman. I did not really like this part. In another movie I think it’d be fine, but it felt like a vast shift in tone and not a positive one. Like the rest of the film it’s well-shot and acted and there’s some strong direction work here especially with silhouettes during the bedroom part but it seemed half-baked and just out-of-place in general. Idk. I probably need to give the movie another watch to talk about this in great depth since it’s been well over a month but even others who love Apocalypse Now as much as I do don’t seem to hold this scene up as one of the better parts of the film.
Anyway, yeah, there’s a lot to talk about with the Redux given the huge amount of new material added to an already epic film. Would love to hear what you have to say about it, and which cut you think is better.
@Aldo – How could you go wrong with watching a film like Midsommar again? Love that film. I personally have not seen the director’s cut but I don’t know about Drake. Your comment caused me to check Midsommar’s reviews on Amazon and I found this absolute gem:
“This looks like a student film that had a budget. Also the sound is done horribly, I had to adjust my volume multiple times and had to triple the volume most of the time just to hear what the actors were saying. There’s nothing really creative about it. Its not an interesting type of weird just kind of stupid. The sex scene at the end had me cracking up but its really the only humorous part and I think unintentionally so, but its not “so bad its good” kind of camp or anything, just a really poorly done film.”
– Amazon Customer
I can’t even imagine getting a movie so wrong. The Rex Reed school of film review grows ever stronger. On your question, it’s gotta be Aster. He’s knocked it out of the park twice. Once of them, this film, a masterpiece. There’s a lot of people who will say Eggers because the only A24 film they’ve seen is The Lighthouse (massively overrated btw, it’s not a bad film but people talk about it like it’s the next Apocalypse Now. Most of those people probably don’t even know what makes the film as good as it is anyway; they just see two guys going completely insane separated from the rest of the world whilst played by good actors and call it the best movie ever, not unlike the fans of Joker; there’s far more than that in the film), or the Safdies because they love Good Time and Uncut Gems but it’s absolutely Aster. This film is simply the greatest work A24 has ever released without the slightest bit of contention, and I think Hereditary is probably second but there are several other A24 films that give me pause there.
@Zane- great stuff here- your comment makes me miss A24 here in 2020– hopefully 2021 brings us more A24— felt like they were taking over in 2019
This year we’re getting sophomore work from Kogonada – very exciting – and Joel Coen’s (curious about the lack of Ethan here) solo debut with his Macbeth film; very excited to see how it holds up compared to Throne of Blood. David Lowery too may finally create the great work he’s probably capable of with The Green Knight as well. So there’s definitely stuff waiting for us this year; that is, unless they get pushed back of course, though I doubt they will.
I see it’s been discussed above, but has anyone had the chance to watch the Director’s Cut? And if so, what did you think. It’s available on the A24 site but at the steep price of $45, hopefully it will go on sale at some point.
@James Trapp- I have not had the opportunity yet here. I will be taking the plunge as soon as it is available somewhere (more reasonably).
Question for anyone,
What are some other great folk horror movies?
I am planning on watch The Witch (2015) soon
but interested in finding some other ones as well.
@James Trapp- The Wicker Man? Burton’s Sleepy Hollow?
I’m not sure if this is a generally known fact, but I just discovered that the elderly man who jumps off the cliff in Midsommar is the same actor in Death in Venice who played Tadzio, the young boy. Interesting that one role represents the glory of youth, and the other the end of life. Interesting bookends to his career.
Does anyone know if the shot in this image is from the directors cut? I don’t remember seeing this shot in the original cut, and it’s really wonderful
I have seen the original version at least 4-5 times and don’t think I’ve seen that particular shot. I really
want to locate the director’s cut but it has unfortunately eluded me. It’s on a short list of films I want to see but
haven’t been able to track down along with Heavenly Creatures (1994), I Am Cuba (1964), The Trial (1962) and a few others. Well sort of for The Trial, I have seen it but poor quality.
Let me know if you manage to track it down.
I Am Cuba is available on youtube on the Mosfilm channel. Its probably the highest quality possible.
Here’s the link –
@Alt Mash – appreciate the response, unfortunately though the link is no working for me, not sure why. Are you in the US?
Thats unfortunate. Most of the great Soviet films are available on this channel including all of tarkovsky, Eisenstien, parajnov and Kalatozov’s. Probably they are not available in US, they are in India.
You should check this channel out, they provide many European and Asian arthouse films.
@Alt Mash – Thankfully I have access to all of Tarkovksy’s films between Criterion Channel and Amazon Prime. Have not got to Eisenstien yet, funny enough I watched De Palma’s The Untouchable last night, I know the train station shoot out scene on the steps is from Battleship Potemkin, will definitely need to get to that at some point.
@Drake-Did you see Beau Is Afraid(2023)? Were you impressed or disappointed? Is it one of the best of the year so far?
@Malith- I did see Beau is Afraid. Very disappointing results coming from a talent like Ari Aster
@Drake – Do you think it has the potential to change after multiple viewings? I realize in theory you could say this about most films but I think some films you can watch and know that multiple viewings probably won’t change much while others seem like they have more potential to improve after watching more than once.
@James Trapp- I do. There’s some Synecdoche, New York-Charlie Kaufman in there and that film rewards multiple viewings.