Most would agree that 2018 was a particularly strong year for horror cinema. This same group of people would also be likely to reinforce the argument that Ari Aster's Hereditary was unfairly omitted from the 91st Academy Awards. It was believed wise to assume that Toni Collette would be nominated for her stunning central performance; yet, she wasn't. The film received no Academy Awards. Should it have?
Yes, absolutely. It's fair to say that Toni Collette's performance warranted a Best Actress nomination. However, it stops there. Hereditary was one of the most critically-acclaimed films of last year, drawing great attention from genre devotees and beyond for its chilling depiction of a family gripped by fear and loss. The family-drama elements work very well and the film is arguably much stronger in its first act. Once the more overt genre elements begin to seep in, they eventually consume the narrative for the worse. Although against popular opinion, the film is good but nothing special.
As its genre intentions become clear as the narrative progresses, it swaps consistent dramatic sequences for a series of generic and ineffective scares. It's not that they are poorly done, it's just that we have seen it before; this is perhaps where the film can be considered a "victim of hype". Hereditary initially promised audiences a very different kind of horror film but eventually, it succumbs to the pressures of the genre and begins ticking off conventions. The performances and first act save it from falling into the mix of similarly middling horror fare. So, should we be excited about Ari Aster's Midsommar?
Admittedly, Hereditary is an accomplished debut feature and displays potential for the filmmaker's future. Unfortunately, the plot of Midsommar suggests a tale all too familiar. According to IMDb: "The story follows a young couple visiting an isolated Swedish village; over the course of their vacation, they discover that its residents participate in an eccentric set of seasonal traditions. The recent death of the main character's parents casts a sense of dread over the proceedings.". It looks like we can expect another entry into the evil cult sub-genre indebted to the likes of Robin Hardy's The Wicker Man - the yardstick of which horror films concerning cults have long been measured.
When reflecting on Aster's Hereditary and the storyline of his forthcoming film, it sounds like we could get something like Gareth Evans' Apostle, but set in the modern day. Now, of course, this is just speculation - however, it would be a welcome surprise if Aster has some devilish shocks in store. Evans' film was undoubtedly brutal, but there was little there in the realm of originality. Hopefully, Midsommar proves more original than Hereditary, which slid into familiarity as it went along. The whole "cults in horror movies" has actually been done well in recent years, with the notable example of Ben Wheatley's Kill List. Sadly, others have felt like modern retreads of The Wicker Man with added gore and sub-plot.
Midsommar has a pretty solid cast featuring the likes of Will Poulter (Detroit), Florence Pugh (Lady Macbeth), William Jackson Harper (Paterson) and more. So, again we can expect a well-performed horror movie. Aster has proved capable of creating a certain sinister atmosphere; all we need now is for him to consistently surprise us with the narrative. If he does, we may just have a great horror director on our hands.
In other news, here are the best films of 2019 so far.
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