This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
nathaniel sexton’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
"the violence we perpetrate and have done to us, the recriminations, reconciliations, the ecstasies and the agonies of a love affair, are based on the socially conditioned illusion that two actual persons are in relationship. under the circumstances, this is a dangerous state of hallucination and delusion, a mishmash of fantasy, exploding and imploding, of broken hearts, reparation, and REVENGE." — r.d. laing, "the mystification of experience," from the politics of experience, pp. 74-5
"one thing i love about genre filmmaking in general, and certainly the horror genre, is that you can take thematic material that may be harder for some people to digest, or material that you want to talk honestly about, without having to compromise whatever your message might be, or without the same risk of losing an audience." — ari aster, talking about why hereditary is a "horror" film, even when it, according to him, is not
"it was certainly a conscious effort, i kind of see the film as a dark comedy. the ending makes me laugh... on a perverse level. i am happy people are finding it funny, that's great!" — ari aster, talking about why midsommar is actually a dark comedy, but don't forget it's also a horror film, hence "dark" comedy
i am convinced ari aster only believes human beings are "vessels" for his own deepening of self; no ppl in an aster film, only effigies, cruelty and the leveraging of "real trauma" to prove enlightenment. aster is at once the bf, the swedish cult, the jester, and the anthropologist: asshole. he is not the girlfriend, cannot be the girlfriend. we are her.
if i had to extend the list at all it would go like this: ari aster is the family. and so begrudgingly, part of him is her but only those parts that he places there. she is not herself but a vessel to be filled up with whatever he declares, the horrible director, father, and her the actress, on set, in the american suburbs, crying in the bathroom, at the apartment, on the plane, smiling in the picturesque rolling hills of some faraway sweden, the dutiful daughter. aster is sure of what he knows and is not at all uncomfortable persuading the audience, his idiot children, of his elevated position while masking his violence under the name of "love."
it might be difficult to get to this critique because on its face the film seems to argue the very same thing, not of aster but of its many villains (projection?). dani is stuck in an emotionally abusive relationship, being gaslit by a coward and a loser, having her family crisis used as an excuse for distance (when it later becomes a "family tragedy," it's used as an excuse for closeness, the vicious and contradictory push and pull of the abusive relationship). elements of projection emerge early; dani's boyfriend's friends call her abusive and he tells her that her bipolar sister is "taking advantage" of her.
after an aster styled (i.e. lurid and edge-prince "twisted!" but shot in long-take to impress seriousness) murder-suicide opening-sequence in which dani's sister is revealed to have ended her own life as well as dani and her's parents' lives, dani and her "friends" arrive at a secluded, culturally unique swedish village.
dani and her friends are then made to participate in a series of festivities ("it's like theater!" oh boy all the world is truly a stage!) with increasing derangement and difference, while their hosts lie to them and entrap them. their american-ness and their emotional coolness are their fatal flaws, making them too self-conscious to offend, and too fascinated by the most ugly details to flee ("you let me sleep through the best part!," the fool bemoans, a hateful identification with an audience perhaps too tired to endure 2.5 hours of this bullshit and who all clearly signed up for cruelty: it's a "horror" film after-all!). they're stuck there in the disquieting daylight, bleaching the truth out of the stains. like us, bound to our seats, alone and together in the dark. it's 9pm but we're at the movies and the screen is SO BRIGHT!
maybe i'm not being clear. aster is gas-lighting his entire audience. he's ostensibly made a horror film (this one he swears is a horror film!), a fact which he draws upon like a wellspring of rationalization to wag his finger at us the whole way through, to blame us for staying through the cruelty. he's also made a "break up movie" with a sidebar (i mean sidebar) of "family tragedy," two "real traumas" that raise the emotional stakes (excuse me while i puke) and through blunt force, and a good share of hysterical screaming (without any genuine sense of embodied expressiveness), is made to convince us that something terrible has indeed occurred and that our hero is vulnerable and feeling unwell. it's a device, a wobbly scaffolding of hollowed out and rotten wood to "elevate" the genre, to make it palatable to yah bois. and it's all just pageantry. burn it down!
survivor's guilt and blame are subjects that are not breached until the end of the film, which betrays any and all sympathies, concerns, and serious ruminations the heaviness of the opening sequence and its unfolding management are made to suggest. after all, the movie is more a (drug) dark comedy (dude hates stoners no doubt) than a horror film. and what's funnier than suicide and losing your entire family? just wait for the punchline.
while the entirety of the film presents us a severely traumatized hero that is being denied access to her closest friends and left without a family, unable to process the pain she is feeling and the many contradictory impulses and thoughts she is experiencing, the end seeks to provide her (and us) some solace, via "revenge," and a spiritual adoption by a new twisted! family. but, for ari, it's all just a joke. and, made all that more cruel by the fact that, in the end, the fate of her tormentor, her captor and abuser, the idiot boyfriend, must be decided by her. as the "may queen," dani is given the ultimate decision to allow her boyfriend to be sacrificed in a final and totally ridiculous ceremony, an on the nose burning of the remnants of the broken relationship (nothing in this movie is subtle), played—like the laziness of the whole film—across contradictory registers: comedy, tragedy, irony, catharsis, absurdity, terror.
most egregiously, this shifting of responsibility re-stages the survivor's guilt, the blame, and the trauma of the original family tragedy. this time dani can confidently say: it was my fault, i did it. the impart of this seems to be nothing more than a punchline for aster, and not one i find especially funny. the finale re-contextualizes and reveals to us the cynicism embedded in the opening sequence: not only that aster was never serious about his familial tragedies, but that he also blames his victims. dani's sister was already enacting dani's fate, a revenge against the family. so twisted! so empty! telling us at once that the horror cinema had never processed "real trauma," and that now, finally, he has done it! he, in his own deluded self-centered fantasy, has processed the pain for us! and so aster enacts his own spectacular revenge against the despised horror audience.
in the end, the audience has been strung along under the assumptions of "real trauma," weighty family tragedy, abuse, and, finally, cycles of abuse, to be left with a "dark comedy" and a shitty punchline that takes two and one half hours to arrive at but whose total meaning is gleamed within the first half hour of the movie, more than telegraphed. although aster is essentially the anointed priest of the new "elevated horror" film, he lacks entirely the intellectual seriousness to tell a joke or the human-care that might cause pause when exploiting the tragedies of real or fictional people. for aster, no one is a subject of suffering, nor simply an object, but a vessel to be filled with his own sense of self-importance.