Ari Aster explores horror with ’Hereditary’ and ‘Midsommar’

The story is in the details of Ari Aster’s Works


(Photo courtesy of Midsommar’s official Facebook page)

By Jeffery Epro, Collegian Correspondent

A common claim by book snobs is that movies lack the depth and details that books can provide. In “Hereditary” and “Midsommar,” the details exist, but there is no book to provide the audience a handbook to reference. Both movies are dense, and the storytelling techniques used by director Ari Aster are subtle. But Aster’s creations of “Hereditary” and the more recent “Midsommar” are unshackled to an original tale and are free to roam in their own uncharted universe.

One way that Aster takes the audience to this unexplored universe is through his utilization of setting. Aster builds his story in our world but with either an unfamiliar environment or components in the plot development. In “Hereditary,” we are exposed to a Wiccan ritual in suburban Utah, and in “Midsommar” the audience is transported to a Pagan enclave in rural Sweden where the sun literally never sets. Both environments are set in the modern world, but it is what Aster incorporates into these settings that makes his films scary. It’s the concept that any location in our world can suddenly turn into our darkest nightmare.

Aster is not afraid of dropping common horror movie tropes like a vengeful spirit, haunted house and jump scares. But in doing so, he nearly erases the familiarity that is usually felt by the viewer when watching a horror movie. When the forced-perspective camera shot is excruciatingly long, the viewer is allowed to take comfort in knowing that a jump scare is in the works. But Aster does not follow the typical playbook, resulting in shocking, twisted and brutally-unexpected scares.

In a wordy gist, “Hereditary” tells the tale of a family that is haunted by an evil spirit. The film tackles how individuals handle grief in their own specific ways. It’s an extremely relatable concept but Aster takes it to a whole new level. “Hereditary” is about the horrors of grief, the terror of grief and what happens to our loved ones who we leave behind. But, of course, Aster has multiple tricks up his selves throughout the film.

Aster’s latest work, “Midsommar,” tells the tale of a group of friends that travel to rural Sweden for research purposes. They take part in the Pagan six-day celebration of Midsummer, but as the celebration continues, doubts and fears arise concerning the true intentions of their hosts. Aster explores this bizarre celebration through the perspective of each friend in the group, but the focus is the main character, Dani’s, experience. As the movie develops, the group of friends become disconnected with their fellow Midsummer participants and the outside world, creating a sense of mental, spiritual and physical isolation.

Aster creates a complex world in his movies, where the strange happenings in their environments are not explicitly supernatural like most horror films today. One does not immediately think “Ghosts!” in an Aster picture. Sure, there may be supernatural elements in his films, but does that cause one to believe there are hidden supernatural forces at play? Probably not. Twisted? Yes. Supernatural? Not necessarily.

The same concept is used by Aster in “Midsommar.” Are these bizarre rituals occurring in the festival indicative of a sinister force at play, or are they historical re-enactments performed by the Pagan enclave to honor their ancestry? The characters perceive the events that unfold with shock and horror. They are everyday occurrences for the characters, but the audience can tell that something is off. In other words, the audience is usually just as confused as the characters are.

The true direction of “Midsommar” and “Hereditary” are not revealed until the final acts. Leading up to this, Aster takes the effort to carve out the stories with small, disconnected, inconsequential details. The compounding effect of these details are most felt in the final scenes of the movie. Everything Aster puts in his films are present for a reason. Nothing is random or accidental. What the audience might think is a weird or creepy action at first could potentially wrap the film together at the end. The bizarre minutiae in “Hereditary” and “Midsommar” are the most rewarding aspects of the films.

If you’ve yet to watch “Hereditary” or “Midsommar,” don’t plan on figuring it all out in one viewing. It is important to keep in mind that the characters of both of these movies do not exist in a vacuum. They’re full characters that have relationships with one another, and their attitudes and actions are reflective this. Nonetheless, Aster offered a unique experience to be had that forever changed the horror genre for good.

Jeffery Epro can be reached at [email protected]