“Midsommar” Art House Film Review

Ars gratia artis. The latin inscription around MGM’s Leo the Lion is the best way I can describe Ari Aster’s Midsommar. The highly anticipated companion followup horror piece to last year’s Hereditary arrived in theatres nationwide last night–to a packed house, I might add. Although even I use the terms movie and film interchangeably in casual conversation, this is a motion picture that I will refer to as a film not a movie. For fellow cinephiles, this is the type of film that reminds us of the power of the moving image and the art of visual design. Film is a visually driven medium, and Midsommar exhibits that in spades. Although it was predicted to be then confirmed by the director to be a companion piece to Hereditary there is little similarity except for one important point: the theme of grief. Furthermore, Midsommar also comments on relationship revenge and drug culture. I’ve heard this film described as one long acid trip by folks on Film Twitter, and that is not entirely inaccurate. From edibles to cocktails, many of the scenes are viewed through the lens of a drug-induced reality that creates a fever-dream-like state of being. Trippy, is putting this cinematic experience lightly. And it is that. A cinematic experience unlike any other that I have ever witnessed. Whereas, in my opinion, this film’s greatest flaw is the lack of a compelling plot–and that’s a big deal, no mistaking it–the film excels at typifying film as art. More specifically, this film is like a work of art in a museum that confronts the viewer with thought-provoking imagery that elicits a plethora of interpretations. And the ability for an art film to prompt us to interpret it differently gives the film the added dimension that doesn’t come to cinemas often.

Dani (Florence Pugh) and Christian (Jack Reynor) are a young American couple with a relationship on the brink of falling apart. But after a family tragedy keeps them together, a grieving Dani invites herself to join Christian and his friends on a trip to a once-in-a-lifetime midsummer festival in a remote Swedish village that is the home of one of their graduate school friends. The carefree summer holiday in a land of eternal sunlight takes a sinister turn when the insular villagers invite their guests to partake in festivities that are increasingly disturbing.

Juxtaposition. There is a brilliant contrast in the imagery of this film. While much of the film is brightly lit and colorful, within that serene landscape and color pallet are acutely disturbing moments that will stick with you long after the film ends. And the nightmare-inducing imagery is not limited to body horror, there are times that unnerving images are of a surreal nature, or perhaps an otherwise warped perspective that keeps you on the edge of your seat. From carefree atmospheres filled with laughter and positivity to depictions of suicide, murder, and mutilation, you will find it all in Midsommar. There is a rich, immersive nature in this film that is inescapable. You will be instantly sucked into the beautifully twisted visually stunning story. Every scene is crafted with such a commitment to the art of visual storytelling that the plot takes a backseat, which oddly enough suits this film nicely. If I was to compare this film to literature, then it would be a poem versus prose. Both poems and prose tell stories, but poems are emotionally driven whereas prose is plot-driven. This is clearly an emotionally driven motion picture that will have you along for the pleasurable unpleasure ride for the rather lengthy runtime. Each frame is an artful expression of the emotion of the moment, and it my delight or rock you to your core.

With it being such a unicorn amongst horror films, if you’re searching for film to compare it to (which can be unfair), for all intents and purposes, I feel that you will find elements of Eyes Wide ShutThe Wickerman, and Requiem for a Dream. It also appears that Aster took inspiration from directors such as: Kubrick, de Palma, and Friedkin. It is difficult to talk about the thought-provoking content without getting into spoilers, but there are many ways to interpret the content and intention of the film. I found the film to creatively express, through the art of the moving image, the ideas of dealing with the (1) PTSD of untimely death and the grief that follows (2) relationship revenge and (3) the effects of a drug-induced state of consciousness. The beginning of the film opens with witnessing the broken relationship between Dani and her boyfriend Christian followed soon by the death of Dani’s sister and parents (this is right at the beginning, so this isn’t really a spoiler). Although Christian begrudgingly keeps the relationship alive (in all fairness, he’s finished with it), he keeps Dani at an emotional distance from him and his friends. At the same time, Dani is suffering from the PTSD brought on by the untimely death of her family that has truly taken a toll on her psycho-social stability. Just like in real life, drugs (both Rx and recreational) are used as ways to both cope and attempt to rise to a higher level of consciousness to deal with the positive and negative elements of life. However, augmenting reality can lead to a dangerous path from which sometimes a return is unlikely or impossible. All three of these themes in the film inspire the mindblowing images through the story.

While I have spent the bulk of this article talking about the macabre nature of this film, it is not without its comedic elements. In fact, some have characterized it as a dark comedy. I’m not ready to refer to it as a horror comedy, but it certainly contains many absurd, laughable lines and images. To get into them would reveal some important spoilers, so I won’t do that to you. But just the very idea of these typical American graduate students in this completely foreign commune of mystic Sweeds in a surreal landscape is enough to make you laugh. And the humor is not limited to the dialogue or setting, but even the very nature of a single image is enough to bring about laughter. Again, more playing around with the contrast that juxtaposing images and music brings to a film. All throughout the film, you will be disgusted one moment and laughing the next. Still, the amount of comedy isn’t enough to bring this into the horror comedy subgenre, but it’s more or less an art house horror film with comedic moments. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the hauntingly beautiful score that becomes a character in and of itself during the film.

This is not a film for general audiences. Personally, I am shocked that this cut of the film even got a theatrical release. It strikes me more as the director’s cut that you would get on the BluRay. It is a hard R. So if you’re a parent or an older sibling, think before taking your child or younger sibling who loves horror as much as you. In addition to the drug use in the film (and it’s all within context), there is full male and female nudity and even a rather explicit sex scene. Nothing is in the film for simple shock value (tho, there are shocking scenes for sure), there is an intentional purpose behind element in this film to deliver the emotionally-driven story that Ari Aster has created.

You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, let him know and you can join him at the cinema.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter!

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“Alpha” full film review

Visually stunning! You’re missing out if you do not choose to see Alpha in IMAX this weekend. The experience of many movies does not significantly change between standard and IMAX screenings, in my opinion; but because of the sweeping landscapes in Alpha, you’ll certainly want to experience it IMAX. However, I do not recommend watching it in 3D. The advanced screening to which I was invited was 3D, and I feel strongly that the cinematography is better appreciated in 2D. Alpha is one of those films that flies under the radar because it is quite niche in nature. Ordinarily, I am just as excited to see the smaller films as the big ones; but this is even a film that I wasn’t thinking much about. The power of visual storytelling is felt in this film that is set shortly after the last ice age, for there is minimal dialogue. And the dialogue that is in the film, is found in the subtitles because the film is in an unfamiliar language. Neither the foreign tongue nor the subtitles take away from the film. In fact, the absence of English and the minimal dialogue enable the audience to focus on the action. If you’re a dog lover or simply interested in anthropology, then this is a film for you.

Alpha tells the story of how the wild dog (or wolf) became man’s best friend. Taking place at the end of the last ice age, a northern European tribe of men is making the arduous journey across the tundra to the sacred hunting grounds where the bison roam before the first snow. On his first tribal hunt, Keda, son of the chief, is put to the test to evaluate his ability to provide for himself and his family, and eventually his tribe. While he “leads with his heart more than the spear” as his father notes, he father believes that he will make the tribe proud. Following a tragic accident during the hunt, Keda’s father and tribe fear him dead and must return to the settlement before the blistering winter sets in. Waking from a coma on the side of a cliff, Keda is determined to make it back to his home. Facing a perilous journey, he must pull on all the lessons he learned from his father in order to survive the vicious frontier. Along the way, Keda encounters a lone wolf left for dead, abandoned by his pack, with whom he develops a friendship after many weeks, and both help each other, against all odds, remain alive in the treacherous wilderness.

If you can make it through the first act, then you will greatly enjoy this intense film. Thankfully the first act was edited in such a way that is does have a hook at the beginning, but the remainder of the first act is relatively slow compared to the rest of the film. Acts two and three, provide audiences with a gripping story of survival against the elements and unforgiving landscape. Diegetically, Alpha is pretty straight forward high concept plot that is simple to grasp. Survival. However, due to the simplistic plot, the film is able to dive deep into character development. Simple plot, complex characters. Much like with A Quiet Place earlier this year, Alpha is a testament to the power of visual storytelling. The juxtaposition between the vast open vistas, hills, and valleys and the intimate story between Keda and Alpha, is fantastic. Quite the contrast. The stories of Keda and Alpha parallel one another, as both were left for dead by their respective tribes. In the tribes’ defense, both were genuinely thought to be dead. Alpha must work though wild instincts to trust Keda, as Keda is working to rehabilitate Alpha; likewise, Keda must work through his own weaknesses to teach himself how to survive and trust Alpha. Overcoming adversity and establishing trust are themes through the story. Even though the end is predictable, your attention is still captured for the duration of the film to witness just how Keda and Alpha are going to survive. The ending does hold a surprise for the audience, and for the characters I might add.

For lovers of anthropology or our canine friends, this is definitely a film that you will enjoy. Although the film has a PG-13 rating for intense moments, I would rate it PG. The film also possesses an inspirational nature about it, because we have all found ourselves in the wilderness trying to survive. Maybe we haven’t been stranded in the unforgiving tundra, but metaphorically we have been there.

“Anomalisa” movie review

AnomolisaAn anomaly of a movie. Okay, so my first line seems a little redundant given the title of the movie, but I honestly could not think of a more appropriate opening. Watch as the classic look and feel of claymation is pushed to new limits. However, a rather curt summary of this movie would be an avant-garde interpretive film that is overly abstract and subjective. Very much art house cinema material, this animated film has no clear message and provides the audience much to think about. However, due to the lack of coherency, it is difficult to apply a common theme or interpretive message throughout the narrative in its entirety. Despite the utter weirdness of the film, you will undoubtedly find yourself identifying with or interpreting various scenes in different ways; although, you may also ask yourself “what the???” after you leave the auditorium. It is definitely an animated film that is extremely artistic and serves as evidence that animation for adults can break from the confines of the living room or computer and find a place amongst other live-action avant-garde films. For fans of Cyndi Lauper, you will get a kick out of one of the scenes in particular, and also notice an analogy in the writing that goes along with her timeless hit “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.”

Michael Stone is a successful businessman and author who is spending the weekend in Cincinnati to talk about his book on improving customer service in stores and other businesses. Along the way, he finds himself meeting many people who adore him and his work–an all too familiar encounter. Upon a chance meeting in the hallway of his hotel, he meets Lisa who captures his attention in a way that no-one has in a long time. Unfortunately, he must deal with personal and interpersonal conflict throughout his business trip and must decide how to handle and move-on with life.

Well, that is pretty much it. There really isn’t much more to say because of the very nature of this film. Much of what you may find enjoyable is the awkward romantic claymation scenes and the ability to gleam from the film whatever you may. One thing is for sure, whereas I find the film to be entirely too abstract and subjective, I can definitely appreciate it for pushing the boundaries of how one typically views or experiences claymation films.